Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Why would you want to write for a living? (Part 3)


When you are little, you have all those amazing dreams about what you want to be when you grow up. I grew up when some of the most common dreams were astronaut, the president, and Billy Jack. (If you don't remember Billy Jack...ask your parents or older siblings. Best Billy Jack line: "I'm gonna put my left foot on the left side of your face." How cool was it that he took his shoes off and that was the signal that he was about to kick butt!?!) But I digress...


As you grow older, life has a way of using a sniper rifle to pick off those dreams one at a time. Pretty soon, many of us settle. After all, chasing a dream is very difficult. So few can actually catch theirs. And you have to surround yourself with people who will help you overcome obstacles and face hardships. Oh yes...catching a dream can come at a steep price.


Just as my dream was about to come to fruition...I ended up in prison. This column is not about that. I won't get into a debate about it or engage those who wish to try and provoke me. It started in 1989 and culminated in 1998. No matter what, I am not the man now that I was then. After three divorces, you have to start thinking "Maybe it's me." I spent my incarceration becoming a better person. I obtained my degree (only an Associates, but I did pull a 3.96 GPS...damn B in Calculus!) through Blue Mountain Community College and LSU. I took years worth of cognitive behavior courses to try and figure out why I was so full of hate and anger. I learned how to play guitar. I got a job helping inmates obtain their GED (some of my most rewarding work), and I became a hospice volunteer where I learned that no matter how bad I thought I had it...I wasn't going to die in prison. Not everybody I knew could say the same.


During that long period of my life, I had two choices: give up and become what is expected of me...or become the man I knew I could become if I was willing to work. I chose the latter. I set a goal of having three full-length books ready to go upon my release. I didn't count Dakota (which I received a letter from an actual New York agency who wanted to represent me while I was sitting in jail. I told them it wasn't a good time and I would have to pass.) It was during my pursuit of my degree that one of the teachers told me after I'd written a short zombie piece for a creative writing course, "You need to be writing all the time. You have a gift." That evening, during a phone call home to my wife, I mentioned writing a blog. Only, it would be fictional. It would be the story of a guy who lives through the zombie apocalypse. Denise said that if I wrote it and sent it to her, she would post it on an actual blog that she would create for me. Like I said earlier...if you chase your dreams, you need somebody who is willing to have your back and be there to support you.  The dream was about to become tangible...

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Why would you want to write for a living? (Part 2)


My love of stories goes back to when I was little. My grandfather taught me to read at an early age. I already had the basics down by the time I started school. In fact, my grandmother told me that I came home from my first day of kindergarten very disappointed. "All they taught was numbers to 10 and started on the ABC's. Who doesn't know that?" were apparently my first words off the bus. I did, however, happen to walk out of the library--despite the librarian's insistence that I choose a book with more pictures--with my first "big boy" book. Savage Sam: Son of Old Yeller. (For the record, I had no idea who 'Old Yeller' was...yet.)


As I settled down enough to start getting serious, I was plunging headlong into marriage number 2. There were a lot of bad things about that marriage, but I will stick to the ones that are relevant to my writing. I started laying down the groundwork for an idea inspired by my time in Charleston, South Carolina. My ship, FF-1079, the USS Bowen, was doing circles waiting for a fog to lift. Looking at the city in the fog, it was like being back in time. The city has fought to preserve its "Old South" heritage. The downtown area is almost a shrine to history. That gave birth to Dakota--my first novel.


I started spending a little time each morning with my notepad and my coffee. When I felt ready, I moved to my computer. (A Commodore 128D!) The words started flashing across the screen and I was underway. However, about five or six weeks into it, my wife (and eventually ex-wife number 2) told me "You are wasting your time with that! Nobody is gonna read it. You should be spending that time with me!" So, I put it in a box and shoved in to the back of the closet where it would stay until I moved out one Memorial Day weekend.


Once again, my dreams of writing were put where most dreams go...away. After all, isn't that why they call them dreams? Once I freed myself of that matrimonial bond, I drifted around with no purpose. I had jobs ranging from club DJ to home automation technical support. (Yep...I yawned just typing that last part.)


Eventually I went back to my old stand-bye of being a waiter and a bartender at some of Seattle's nicer establishments. That is where I met wife number 3. For as terrible as I was as her husband (every bit of the fault in that divorce is truly mine...I was awful...not violent, but words can be far more damaging if used {im}properly) I actually owe a big part of where I am now to her. She found "the box." When she asked me who wrote all the stuff she had been reading that day while I was at work slinging drinks to the business elite...I shrugged and admitted to the deed. I don't know what I expected, but it was not the response she gave me.  Her words to me that day were simple. "You have to write. I may not know much...but I know what I see here is good. I also know that you will always wonder about what might have been." So...I got a Brother word processor (that would eventually be replaced by my P133, 2GB hard drive desktop computer) and I went to work. This time it would be different. However...things would not go exactly as planned...

Monday, November 24, 2014

Why would you want to write for a living? (The intro)

As many of you know, I will be spending the week with my daughter, who I have not seen for almost 2 years. Even more exciting, this is our FIRST ever Thanksgiving together! So I went through some oldies but goodies and found some things that you might have missed when they first ran.


I've heard that question a few times in my life. (Including from ex-wives.) To me, the simple fact that you would have to ask means that you won't be happy (or perhaps even understand) my answer. I am going to share my own personal reasons here. Some of them will seem silly, a few will definitely sound selfish. Still, they are mine and I am not ashamed of them.


First off, if you know me personally, it comes as no surprise that I am a bit of an attention whore. Simply put, I like being in the spotlight. I've been the lead singer and a guitarist for a few bands. Nothing major...but an absolute blast. I've played in front of a few hundred people. Even on the tiniest stage, I always treated it like it was a packed arena full of thousands. I put my heart into it every time I stepped up to the mic. When I strapped on my guitar, I felt like Ace Frehley or Stevie Ray Vaughn...even though I played like...well...me.


I have a hefty amount of stage credits to my name; having been in shows like Pippin, Oliver, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and The World According to Snoopy. I discovered my knack for the stage in high school and decided to pursue it into adulthood. I feel fortunate. I never auditioned for a show that I wasn't cast in during those years. I have a ton of great memories from that era in my life.


Still, I always had that yearning to write. It has been part of me since I was a kid telling bedtime stories to my  teddy bear. I have just loved the idea of sharing a story. I was the kid on the camp outs who had a million ghost stories. When I got to high school, I took every writing class I could get in to. When the teacher in my Creative Writing class would ask if anybody wanted to share their work, I always raised my hand. The payoff would come after class when the other kids would give their feedback. My favorite comment came from the pretty girl who didn't ever remember my name. "You should write for a living." I'd like to say that she finally remembered my name but...no. I was still invisible to her. Still, she did smile and occasionally say hello in passing. (Wasn't high school great?!) The biggest thing that I kept hearing was that I had a knack for creating something on paper.


The problem I faced when I was young is nothing that hasn't plagued most teenagers: focus. I was in the Navy...seeing the world. I enlisted as a submarine sonar technician right out of high school. It was the 80s. The US and the (still in existence) USSR did not get along. My job was to find and classify Soviet contacts of interest. Very Hunt for Red October. I would write in fits and starts for several years.


In 1989, when I left the US Navy, I would seriously consider what I wanted to do with my life. It always came back to writing. Whether I was writing comedy bits for the morning show at the radio station, or ad copy (the least glamorous writing job EVER!)...writing was my love. Next time I will dish up dirt on a relationship that almost put me out of action forever...and the one that restarted me on this path.

Friday, November 21, 2014

I must say farewell...

Our reunion after 16 years apart.
...but just for a while. You see, my daughter is coming in from Illinois for the week of Thanksgiving. It has been over a year since we have seen each other and I want to spend every single spare second with her. That means that I will be posting "reruns" next week. We have tons planned, and even one day where we will just sprawl on the couch and sip coffee. So much has changed since that picture above where we saw each other for the first time after 16 years. We were both a bit nervous (I was terrified) and you might notice that we are sort of leaning away from each other. Things have changed since then. And we are both so excited that we can't stand it. She has had a countdown on her phone for months...and now we are down to the last few days.

Her Halloween costume...Nerd Lumberjack?
So, my friends, I wish you all the happiness and hope that you are experiencing things that make you thankful. I know it is common to moan about family dysfunction around this time of year, but if you have ever lost it all for an extended period, believe me when I tell you that you would appreciate it so much more. Take this time to maybe reach out to the one person who meant so much in your life but has perhaps slipped away.


Believe me when I say, the reward is beyond belief. And now, I must clean my house (again) and pace nervously as I await the arrival of my little girl.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

My first LIST of the season.

I realize that the over-commercialization of the holiday season has ruined Christmas for many. And there are those who want to gouge their ears out when they hear that first Christmas song before the Halloween pumpkins have even been tossed out. Personally, I can't wait for November 1st, so I can crank up my Spotify "The Cool Christmas Collection" playlist. (You can search for it under that title and become a follower so that the playlist is available to you.)

I know there are some out there who HATE Christmas music. I am just the opposite...I can listen to it in July and it had nothing to do with the holiday...I just dig the music. Personally, Christmas was never a favorite season of mine when I was young for personal reasons that would just be a downer to read, so we will skip it. Yet, the music has always really done it for me. And now there is just some VERY COOL stuff. I know these lists are subjective...so share yours.

I had to really think it over to narrow down MY top 10. (And most if not all of the can be found on my Spotify playlist "The Cool Christmas Collection".)

But before I get to it, just can't forget this song that was perhaps one of the largest gathering of Pop Stars who wanted to make a difference:


#10 The Waitresses...perhaps the best "Story" song EVER! Patty was under-appreciated.



#9 Dino! The man was awesome!



#8 Bing & Bowie...I actually watched this special that spawned this classic...



#7 This was hard to put at 7..I like it WAY more...but it gets tough from here for me.



#6 I never miss this...and will NEVER grow tired of this classic.

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#5 Okay, I cheated here...I know it is three songs, but it is MY list.



#4 Today's female pop tarts got nothing on the original Cat Woman!

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#3 Karen Carpenter was my FIRST crush!



#2 I am a sucker for the instrumentals...



#1 The guitar work simply blows me away and the power behind this piece is amazing!



Now...I have to include a couple of "honorable mentions" just because they are fun.



Monday, November 17, 2014

First Concert Ever! Remember yours?

C'mon, you LOVE Poison...stop pretending. It's cool...they are "retro" now!
Saturday night in Portland, Oregon. It is cold, windy, and mid-November. After the last few stress-filled weeks, it was past time to just have a little fun. It is no secret that I am a fan of the "Tribute" music scene. (NOTE: The difference between TRIBUTE and COVER band is the fact that a Tribute band focuses on one group, and even tries to go for the "look" that band was known for.)

You wanted the BEST...(you know the rest)
Dr. Love is Portland's KISS tribute band. Seriously, I know of no other. As a fan, the first song I learned when I started hacking at my guitar was "Cold Gin". (Hint: I would love to "guest vocal" someday!) These guys go all out when they hit the stage. One of the nice touches is when "Peter Criss" sings the song "Beth", he passes out roses that are attached to drumsticks to some of the ladies. A real kick is listening to "Gene Simmons" and his constant banter with the crowd and the band. They guy is a natural performer.

Holy Diver indeed!
Believe in Dio was next. I actually saw this band a month or two ago and joked about "Scrawny James Dio" in a prior blog post/review. My problem was not just the fact the singer was so skinny, it was that his lips were not moving while the vocals were still going. Not saying he was not singing...but he had "help". The new guy has the chops. He struggled on some of the more ballad-driven cuts, but when it was time to belt it out, he had all you could want from a guy singing Dio tunes. Note to sound techs, too much guitar was drowning the vocals a bit. The guitarist is talented, but it covered some of the vocals and everything else at times.

Naughty Boyz...
Poison'us was the final act. Having seen them before, I was pretty stoked. This was Jenifer's first concert and I knew these guys were high energy stage performers. They really proved it during this show. I write zombie fiction for a living...and comparing the audience with the walking dead is kind of a cut on zombies. But, like true professionals, they left it all on stage and hit the marks on all the classics. They sounded great as always.

Jenifer gets up close with "Brett Michaels"
And with such a small venue, the band actually came out into the gathering and interacted. (I won't say crowd...let's leave it at gathering.) To be standing a foot away from "Brett Michaels" while he croons is something that my character from That Ghoul Ava might have to experience for herself some day. (I Wonder if Brett/Will would be interested in reading about her and then letting me use him loosely in one of her upcoming adventures?)

...and "C.C DeVille"
But there was something different about Poison'us this time. "Bobby Dahl" on bass is now played by Roger Jamie (also the Gene Simmons with Dr. Love). Take away the greasepaint and this guys still has a presence on stage that is undeniable. His energy and banter is great and he "acts" the part of the bass player for Poison. It is like watching a clinic of Onstage Rockstar Poses from the 80s-101. Scratch that...this was graduate level stuff. He can strut and shake with the best of 'em.

This might be the longest he stayed in one spot.
I had no problems with the former Bobby, and bands go through changes. But I will say that this  new member brought a GREAT energy level to the show. The band interaction was up several notches. He even had some fun banter with the female backup singer (who might not get enough credit...she adds a very nice tone to the vocal side of this band).

All in all, Jenifer had a great time. She even got presented with a drumstick from "Rikki Rockett" who is played by the talented Andrew Losli. If the night had not already been memorable enough...she had something physical to commemorate her first concert experience.

A side note, I briefly mentioned the sparse audience. I wanted to take a moment to re-visit that part. One of the things about playing in the bars and clubs is that "hit-and-miss" factor when it comes to the audience. For me, this audience was a miss. Too many people sitting around, not enough people treating this like an event. Polite applause is fine for a musical or community theater production, but this is a chance to step back in time with some bands you love who actually care about the audience. These guys (and ladies) all have "real" jobs to deal with. Then, they find time to practice so that they can put on a helluva show. So next time you are in the audience...to quote "Brett Michaels" (aka Will Barnes) "MAKE SOME NOISE PEOPLE!" Kudos to all these bands for not letting the downer crowd (at an establishment that seemed to care less about this event...sorry Analog, but you lost a customer Saturday Night) keep them from putting on one kick ass show.

Friday, November 14, 2014

A thank you to the Ava fans!

So, I want to lead this off with a thank you to a very special reader: Caroline Harmon. (President of the That Ghoul Ava fan club...I know, Ava has a growing fan club!)


Caroline is not just an Ava fan, she also loves the DEAD series and recently sent me about thirty or so pictures to use in an upcoming DEAD book. Not only that, but Caroline comes from a long line of "carny folk". Now, since I have no idea if that is the PC term, I am going to say it anyway with confidence that Caroline would not care either way.


Caroline has the distinction of basically running the That Ghoul Ava Wastebook page. My friends all know that I do not surf that outlet (for reasons mentioned a billion times). She promotes the page, drags people in, and basically is like a puppy with a sock. Now, I don't know what that means exactly, but my point is that she is tireless in her Ava love. It is for this reason that I am pleased to announce that she will have a lifetime spot on the Ava Beta team. Also, she will be gifted with the audio version of every Ava adventure. It is a small thing really, but it is the best way I know to say thank you to such an incredible and helpful person. And the stuff she sent me for the upcoming DEAD book...absolutely awesome!

Now, I want to share a few titles that you have to add to your "MUST READ" list:

First, the ultimate parody for the indie writers (readers will love it as well!) in the zombie genre, a clever short titled Return of the Night of the Walking Dead.

My review read as follows, "This is hilarious. The writer did an exceptional job of spoofing the Indie Zombie book scene. If you have read OR WRITTEN a zombie story, you must read this. It has some vulgar language, but it all fits perfectly. Everything from crappy editing to weak character development is made fum of in this neat package."

But my front runner for best of 2014 is a short titled Survival. This book is listed as the first of a series and if Rhonda Hopkins can keep up this sort of pace for a full-length novel...be prepared to lose a lot of sleep.

Those are just a couple of (very different) titles. What are some of yours. Also, unlike others, I will also be treading on some toes with a list of some of the disappointments of the year when it came to books that I read. Sorry, but there has to be balance.