Thursday, February 26, 2009


Yesterday, I found out my sister-in-law got an agent for her book. She's a special Ed teacher, is kind to animals and is really a great person. She wrote a kid's book a few months ago, went through the very familiar routine of sending the book off to people. She got an agent. According to my wife, the agent recently represented another author, whose book was turned into a movie. It sounds incredibly promising.

There's no doubt about it. This is a great piece of news for her. She's had a long, rough patch (some of which has been brought on by her "doesn't-play-well-with-others" girlfriend). It's a shot and I'm trying really hard to be glad for her, but man... I've got a wall papered with rejection letters. My book is under it's fifth official re-write and I already know I'm going back for a sixth for what is hopefully a final punch up. The book has evolved from 135,000 words to right around 85,000. I'm not even planning on sending out new queries, new samples for another couple of weeks.

She deserves this. She deserves the shot. She's earned it. I want to be happy for her, but all I can taste is my own envy.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Second... er Third Job Blues...


"Well, just the one thing. One of the doughnut places is looking for someone to work third shift. That would work with the night classes and with keeping up the stuff with the kids."

Thoughtful pause.

"When do you think you'd sleep?"

"It would only be part-time. I couldn't do that every night."

Irritated silence.

"It would kill you. Remember when you used to get sick and stay sick for two months? Maybe, do you think, it had to do with not getting enough rest? You're too old to work overnights."

Meaningful contemplation of my apparent imminent mortality.

"It would only be part-time."

"You're not allowed to die on me and aren't you on some kind of low-carb diet? How does working around doughnuts fit in with not eating bread."

"I wouldn't eat the stuff."

Disbelieving silence.

"You don't believe that."

She's right. I don't.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Karma To Burn

This one is for the rock fans... Apparently, Karma To Burn is back from the dead.

Like a lot of my music, I came to these guys late. Check them out. Their reappearance, along with this current economic downturn, might just be the signal of the apocalypse.

Oh, well, it's not like anybody has anything better to do.

Monday, February 23, 2009

87, 86, 85, 84

So, I was on a roll... sue me. I finished up four last week.

Outliers: Malcolm Gladwell - I'm a fan of Gladwell's other books, "Blink" and "The Tipping Point," which deal with decision making. Outlier takes a look at success. Remember all those stories about how some guy of humble beginnings raises himself up through the muck to become super successful? According to Gladwell, it's mostly horse shit. Partly, it has to do with when and where you were born and partly to do with where you are at the moment you get your shot. It's more complicated than right place, right time, but it's an eye-opening look at how the self-made really aren't self-made.

Animals in Translation: Temple Grandin -At times a jaw-droppingly insightful book about humanity seen basically through the eyes of a highly articulate autistic (asperger's). She talks mostly about animals, but it's impossible not to see parallels explaining human behavior.

How To Dunk A Donut: Len Fisher -a scientist and winner of the ignobel prize for physics. A really smart book about everyday science and applying scientific principles to study common activities. It's also a book to make guys like me feel dumber than we already do. Pretty obviously I have a massive math deficiency. People with head injuries can probably add and subtract with more confidence than I can. It's embarrassing. Even with things dumbed down for the masses, about half of the mathematicl stuff was still over my head. I did better with chapters dealing more with chemistry, like one about beer foam and another dealing with food, and biology, like the chapter on sex. I'm kind of a lunkhead, but maybe I should just get a book on dumb ass math and try to work on it.

Tunnel Vision: Keith Lowe -A total idiot makes a bet with his scumbag trainspotting friend to ride the entire London underground in less than a day. The trick is it's the day before he's supposed to get married to the girl of his dreams and his scumbag friend has hidden the things he needs to leave with his fiance for their wedding in Paris in locations scattered around the tube system. He has some help from a homeless guy and there are some funny, even bizarre moments. The ending however isn't very satisfying. You sort of wish the guy would shove his friend to the tracks or he'd lose the girl or he'd adopt the homeless guy... something... Mostly, the finale is a kind of literary shrug with nothing really being gained or lost.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Roller Girls

It doesn't always happen with every story I write, but from time to time, I sort of come to develop an attachment. Yes, I really dug Derek Trucks' new album -so much so, I'm thinking of not giving it back to the unnamed afternoon music host I borrowed it from (Unless, he says he wants it, which is entirely unlikely. I don't think he digs slide guitar). And yes, it was in pursuing a story a year ago that got me into jumping into cold water in the middle of February.

However, these are the exception to the rule.

I did a story on the Chemical Valley Roller Girls a while back, a roller derby team springing up here in the heart of West Virginia. I was pretty proud of the story and the video we did. The idea of empowering people through a weird team sport was just irresistible. It probably helps that I don't skate and the whole theme of women in black (on skates) crashing into each other (which is more of a secondary thing to the game) appeals to my darker nature. It's just cool.

So, the Chemical Valley Roller Girls are trying to get started. They have no real funding, have a second-hand track to practice on and are still working on fundamentals, but they've got a lot of heart. All they really want to do is give the state a league of its own, build friendships and support their community. Anything beyond that is gravy, but they need equipment, sponsorship and to get the word out to other women in the area that they could also do this.

I want to help, but could use ideas on how to do these things. So, if you got any thoughts on how to help the CVRG, kick them forward. Operators are standing by.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009


So, it's become pretty obvious my days of holding down just one real job are pretty much numbered. It was a good time while it lasted.

I've never quite never considered myself to be poor. Even with second-hand shoes and a diet that consists of a lot of beans, I've thought of myself as middle-class, but broke. Both my wife and I have reasonable jobs with some benefits. Neither of us is making minimum wage. Neither of us is as poorly treated as the average person working the line at Burger King. I can not fathom how they do it, how they pay their bills, feed their family or keep a roof over their head.

All I know is I want to do that. Anything beyond that is thick, velvety gravy.

Friends have always said I seem to miss my old job slinging coffee at Books-a-million. It was a good time more than it wasn't. I didn't take it too seriously. People who drop chunks of dry ice in the urinal or who place books on animal husbandry deliberately in the romance book section are having a pretty good time, even if they are sleep deprived. I made some friends and the money really came in handy.

But there's no going back to that. It wouldn't be much fun a third time around (not that they'd have me) and besides, my situation is different. My evenings are less available than they were before the birth of my youngest child. I'm probably looking at some weekend work, maybe late nights or possibly some very early morning shifts somewhere. It won't be all bad. These are prime times for strange tales and decent coffee.

Maybe I could drive a taxi. That could be fun. I saw Taxicab Confessions on HBO. I've also heard Charleston might be getting a plasma center, which is just like a job except all you have to do is lay there and let them drink your blood. Both are probably more difficult jobs than they appear. There may be licenses or special training involved.

But I guess we'll see... and if anybody out there reading knows about a gig somewhere in Charleston with flexible hours, send it along.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Equilibrium seems to be taking hold. I should be getting back to regular blogging this week... and hey, I'm looking for extra work again, so that will be a fun topic to beat in the ground.

Meanwhile, the 100 books in 2009 quest is still going.

Teach Yourself Evolution: James Napier -I've always sort of bemoaned my education. At points it was lacking due to access to ideas. At other times it was lacking due to lack of motivation. I was a pretty poor student when I was in high school and a power drinker for much of my time in college. It's a wonder I can tie my fucking shoe (my mother would be laughing at me at that one).

Anyway, I've always had a vague interest in biology. I have some idea about evolutionary theory, but lacked anything beyond the most general knowledge that Jesus did not, in fact, ride a dinosaur.

Anyway, the book is a pretty good primer on how the basic theory works, including natural selection. It meshes very well with some other books I've been reading that deal with selective breeding. It didn't answer every question I had, but explained to me one of Vonnegut's jokes. In Timequake, Vonnegut asked his brother, a scientist, if he believed in evolution. The premise was Vonnegut was sort of flawed. Vonnegut's brother said yes. So, Vonnegut asked him why.

"It's the only game in town."

Pest Control: Bill Fitzhugh -A down on his heels exterminator named Bob Dillon (whose namesake is the rock/folk icon) is mistaken to be an international hit-man. Hilarity ensues and a real hit man gets redemption.

A pretty fun read, though plodding toward the beginning, Pest Control has to labor to set up a pretty forced idea involving a bug-fixated everyman and his struggling family. It sort of reminded me of the "King of Queens" show, but with lots and lots of insects. Still, the book is charmingly weird. The frequent, educational, and bizarre explanations about bugs is an interesting device to redirect attention and the many (and none to subtle) references to Bob Dylan the musician are pretty entertaining.

Friday, February 13, 2009


I've always wanted to like Valentine's Day. I've certainly tried to make it special many times and usually suffered for it. My worst, I think, was years ago I filled a woman's desk with cheap, store bought Valentines -like the kind you get for an 8 year-old to begrudgingly hand out to the girls in his class. I bought something like ten boxes of the damned things and signed every, single one.

When she got to her desk, it was like a Hallmark factory exploded. I thought it was fun and original. She thought it was a mess. The gesture was futile anyway. I wasn't her type. She preferred strapping redneck lads who slapped her around when they got drunk. Evidently, I like a challenge.

In other years, I tried following the commercial herd. I've bought flowers and cards, candy and jewelry. I've written terrible, terrible and traumatic poems. I've taken women to dinner. I've shopped for the right stuffed bear. I've given mix tapes.

I never quite get the pitch or tone right. It's always a little off and about half the time, I've ended up feeling like a total failure at the end of it. You want it to be appreciated, but when they just sort of shrug, it hurts. I have to concede I'm just not very good at the broad displays of affection. Other guys can get a plastic-wrapped flower at a gas station and turn it into magic. I can't always make flowers and dinner seem like anything special, when really it is.

I'm not discouraged. Limitations are just things to batter against, things to work on while we pass the time.

Love is elusive. It's not a language. It's a conversation spoken by people from different countries. It's trying to know the other and in the failing, trying again.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009


A couple more for the stack. I've been slowed due to some material requiring more mental input than usual.

A House To Let: Charles Dickens. Again, not one of his greater or better known works. This one was a collaborative with several other writers, telling the story of an old house with curious tenants. As Dickens liked, there is something about a stolen inheritance, tragic circumstances and even a general theme that kindness is greater than love. Not a bad book, by any means. Just not a great one.

Timequake: Kurt Vonnegut. An interesting meditation on free will. Vonnegut is Vonnegut. Sometimes the stories are pretty straight forward (Mother Night). Other times, they're pretty whacked out (Slaughterhouse Five) and then they get odd. Vonnegut puts himself in the story (again) along with the long suffering Kilgore Trout. The story revolves around the very real deaths of Vonnegut's siblings, the death of his ex-wife and a sudden hiccup in the universe where time rewinds ten years. It's not as cool as it sounds. Everyone is forced to relive moment by moment the last decade and do exactly the same things. At the end of the ten years cycle, freewill and awareness of what happened is returned. All hell breaks lose.

It is both a baffling and beautiful book. Vonnegut rolls through the story abusing conventions. He's not just the writer, he's a character. He refers to himself both in and out of the story. He references other books he's written and books he likes. He uses repetition of information to create and maintain mood.

It's classic Vonnegut. It rambles, jokes and gets where its going when it needs to.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Warm and Fuzzy

I've given a lot of thought about blogging and bloggers. It's one of the oddest things when a few of us gather and talk. We're all familiar strangers. We've constructed working friendships without an actual skeleton based on artificially collected impressions. It doesn't make it any less real, but it's amusingly awkward. We're all used to communicating via Ouija board. We've established some intimacy, but we don't know each other's social cues.

Blogging is both terribly lonesome and very social. We're trying to reach out to others. It's not just about hearing our own voice, though sometimes it is. Often our motives are both greater and lesser than what we state as the reason for blogging in the first place. The truth is revealed nonetheless. Not every political blog is about politics. Not every sports blog is about sports. We reveal our hands slowly sometimes, over the course of many months. Our language gives us away. We are who we say we are.

But you never know... not for sure until you look somebody in the eye.

Saturday, sitting with a handful of this strange, nearly secret society, I was amazed at how close I'd come with my assessments of the people I'd read. Good people, every one of them. Honest, thoughtful, funny, smart and a little brave to come sit in a strange neighborhood to have coffee with someone they could only barely know.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Down to the wire

Just a couple of more days until the Polar Plunge. If you know a plunger and have been sitting on the fence about helping, now would be the time to get your money in. Good God people, there's a t-shirt at stake.


Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reversing direction.

After looking at previous lists of things I wanted to accomplish and my hopeful goals, I've come to the conclusion, almost anything I put in a list as something I want to, I tend to fail. If I say I'm going to lose weight, really I'm going to gain a few more pounds. If I say I want to exercise, this will be the year I find a new way to not go to the gym.

It's a bit depressing. So, I've updated my list of things to accomplish in 2009. The upside is if I fail, it really won't matter.

Monday, February 2, 2009


(100 books in 2009 update) (9 for January)
Two more to the pile. I almost got a third one in for this week, but it just wasn't meant to be.

I Smile Back: Amy Koppelman -This is best described, I think, as Brett Easton Ellis lite. Laney is the original desperate housewife. While the kids are in school and her husband is busy ignoring her doing his boring (and slightly unsavory) career as a successful insurance agent, Laney drinks, does drugs and fucks whatever comes her way, including her best friend's husband and a small, stuffed Winnie the Pooh that belongs to her daughter.

It all sounds normal (the Pooh bear thing is a little weird), except the reason why is apparently Laney is purposely debasing herself over nebulous issues concerning her childhood. When she was a kid, her father left her and this was at least part of the trauma that makes her the way she is. Of course, debasement is sort of a relative term. For Koppelman and Laney, this eventually means anal sex. Getting poked in the ass is the fine line that indicates she's really disconnecting from herself.

Eh... if you say so. It must be a stay-at-home Mom thing.

While the book is pretty well-written, flows very nicely and the dialogue works, I never bought into believing the author knew much about drugs or sex. She mentions eight balls, but I never got the impression the author had ever taken one, but maybe had cribbed it from somewhere else to get a little street cred. Maybe it came up at a PTA meeting she attended and it sounded cool. The sodomy thing... I don't know. It seems to me, if you're looking to really debase yourself sexually, you could go a lot further than ass sex. The Japanese alone have come up with some really innovative stuff involving tentacles, rayguns and people in diapers. Maybe a little more research was warranted or at least a working internet connection.

I just wasn't shocked.

I love shocking books. I love books that change the ph balance of my conscience and challenge my comfort level. Cormac McCarthy did that to me with "The Road." The whole description of the boy discovering the cannibals preparing a newborn like a roast deeply disturbed me, but also spoke of how traumatic it is to lose innocence regardless of the means. I chafed over John Irving's "Cider House Rules" and the very likable abortionist, who was trying to stem the flow of tragedy and be of some use in a very flawed world. Given that I tend to fall on the pro-life side of things, it was, at times, a difficult read for me, but it challenged some of my perceptions in an intelligent way.

I Smile Back just didn't have the jolt required to make the jump over interesting, but forgettable to meaningful. Not bad, just not great either.

Upgrade Me: Brian Clegg -This falls in with my accidental study of genetics. I am also currently reading a book on evolution and another my Temple Grandin, who speaks extensively about natural selection.

The basis for the book is the argument that man is not approaching "Singularity," the moment when technology hits the point when it can make vast changes. This has been mentioned in popular media in movies like The Matrix and Terminator, where the computers become so much smarter then man, they can be used to make sweeping changes to our species. We would become Human 2.0.

Clegg's argument is that we're already past 2.0. We have been for centuries. We've already been tampering with our evolution through everything from creating clothes to launching ourselves into space. Most of what he says, I think, is a little bit of an oversimplification. Part of being human is we use tools -few species do that (apes, some birds and possibly dolphins also use tools to accomplish tasks). Clothes and space flight are simply extensions of tool making, but also sort of speak to our basic natures. Our nature is to not be natural.

Clegg also gives an overview of technologies that have emerged that could alter us, what is likely to happen and what is unlikely to happen. Unlikely to happen? Well, tinkering with our genetic make-up to add new abilities is pretty unlikely and probably dangerous. So, we're not going to be the X-men. Likely to happen? Electronic devices that restore sight, introducing genes into the general populace that could reduce certain kinds of disease, life extensions that mean something beyond tacking on years during the decline of health.

It was a pretty comfortable read without meandering into dull. I got a better impression of what is possible and what the future might hold for people.