Father’s Day!

Yesterday, my father, brother, and I celebrated my dad’s 32nd Father’s Day. And while, as I’m sure is true with every father and son (who are being honest), we don’t get along all the time, I do always know–and never forget–the lengths to which my dad went to make sure I had as normal a life as possible. All the times he spoke up on my behalf, when I couldn’t speak for myself. The chance he took with an experimental surgery. The time we spent together in that California hospital room. He slept in a chair at the side of my bed, if I remember correctly.

Now the years have done their dance on and around us (That’s true of all of us, isn’t it?). I grew up. He grew hair in his ears (Sorry, Dad. I had to get one little dig in, or I wouldn’t be your son). We love to watch baseball and football together. All the games of both sports. If we can catch a broadcast by the great Vin Scully, we won’t ever pass up the opportunity to hear: “It’s time for Dodger baseball”, but we are true Seattle sports fans (go hawks, go M’s).

We are both writers, too. Together, we work hard to see our own tomes published (at this point, I’d settle for an agent, but to be published is the dream). Dad found his agent (this is his first Father’s Day with an agent!) and is now working hard to not only edit his manuscript but also to help me secure my own representation.

I just wanted to say I know it hasn’t been easy, and life is a constantly evolving set of circumstances, but thank you, Dad, for being one of my best friends, a true confidante, and one of my biggest fans. I hope you know I’m the same for you!

 

 

 

 

A Main Character Leaves In A Huff

I thought, What should I write about today? And I came up with what I think is a pretty good poem. As a writer, I’m always hoping my main character will help guide me through his or her story, leading me to its resolution down what can sometimes be a long and circuitous road. Sometimes they do, sometimes they don’t. When they don’t. it’s usually my fault, and it goes a little something like this.

 

The blank screen of a fresh page mocks

Amid nothing besides night’s darkness and

The tick of a ceaseless clock.

Time travels onward,

A cycle that toys with the mortal,

While my characters, annoyed,

  Sit trapped aboard

A London double-decker.

 

I consider ending them, all of them,

Right here,

The delete button

My own personal wrecker.

“You’re a hypocrite,” I hear the main character yell.

“First you invite us–my family and I–into your  mind.

‘Your story’s fascinating,” you say.

 “One I want to tell.’

And now you threaten us with extinction

Because you have yet to find

Literary distinction,

And you’re not sure we’ll get you there.

Well, fine,

We know when we’re wanted,

And when we’re wasting our time.

We will gladly vacate your mind

And find among your writery lot

Another aspiring writer,

One who’s got

The guts to give us our due,

Who won’t give up

When the edits get tough

Or when the words get stopped up

And won’t flow.”

Baseball-Live In The Present, But Celebrate The Past

“Baseball’s boring,” I’ve heard many people say. “Why can’t it be more like football? Football’s got action happening all the time.”

I beg to differ. Baseball isn’t boring. Calling it boring over-simplifies and degrades it. But it is the thinking-man’s sport. There is a good deal of strategy in it.

After you’ve seen a game, the overriding memory you go away with isn’t so much of the score and the plays that made that score manifest itself but of the feelings you had as the game took place around you. How the third-baseman, crossing into foul territory, caught a pop-up for the second out of the second inning feet from your seat. How another foul ball might have taken the baseball cap right off your head, if not for your trusty glove. How a home-run in the sixth, a monumental shot to left-center, put your team ahead to stay. If only the bullpen can hold it, you remember thinking. They did.

As I head to another baseball game–I’ve been to so many over the years I’ve lost count–I am reminded once again that baseball isn’t boring. It’s never been boring to me. it’s the sport that, more than any other, engages you in a battle of strategy. It’s the sport whose games are all the same, in that each will run nine innings, yet every game is different. You’re bound to see something at a baseball game you’ve never seen before, no matter how many games you’ve witnessed.

And, later, when the game is over, all over, and you’re awash in  sentimentality, because the sport can do that, too, you’ll remember the grace of players whose spikes have sat in closets for fifty years, whose smiles were genuine, whose exploits between the baselines were grand.

I know I do.

Baseball gives us this lesson: Live in the present, but celebrate the past.

The Fault In Our Stars–No Fault Here!

Full disclosure: I love the book by the same name written by John Green of vlogbrothers youtube fame. It is one of the best written works of the past ten years. Forget its genre. Forget that it’s YA. It’s brilliant on its own wonderful merits.

So I went into the movie, starring Shaiene Woodley and Ansel Elgort and directed by Josh Boone, with high expectations.

Expectations met.

The movie, too, is a wonderful piece. Like the book, it does not sentimentalize the truth of cancer. It lets that truth stand for what it is; often unfair and ugly.

Green’s best “book-scenes” as well as his most affecting dialogue remain intact here. Woodley is good. There was never any doubt she would be. There is a heartfelt–but perhaps too short–performance by Laura Dern as the helicoptering mother of young Hazel Grace Lancaster.

Elgort’s Gus is likable, at turns sardonic, always kind and affectionate toward our Hazel, always ready with a metaphor. The simple metaphor, more than his wit, and thankfully more than the cancer that took his leg, is what makes Gus who Gus is. You gotta love a guy willing to put a cancer stick between his lips but who refuses to light it, just to show his cancer who has the power.

I won’t give anything away. If you’ve read the book, you know what happens. If not, still see the movie. In fact, make sure you see it.

Is the movie better than the book? No, but it comes in a very close second. For reference, there are only two movies better than the books they came from, in my opinion. Those were Forrest Gump and Field Of Dreams.

The Fault In Our Stars, A Josh Boone Film, 125 mins, PG-13, 5 stars!

 

Write What You Know

Today, I wanted to confront the most overused writerly idea and expression of all overused writerly ideas or expressions. That, as the title indicates, would be write what you know.

It’s the simple assignment many teachers give their charges when they’re first exposed to the joy of writing. “Tell me about your vacations,” they’ll say at the beginning of a school yeaer. “What did you do? Write it all down for me.”

That is writing what you know.

But to carry that idea into creative writing doesn’t always work. It can, but it doesn’t always. For example, there’s no way J.K. Rowling is personally acquainted with a boy wizard who plays quidditch. She made that all up. She didn’t know it before it became something, fashioned out of the building materials present only in her imagination, and set down in paper and ink to stand for all time.

Every novel is going to have autobiographical elements. Even Potter. Rowling has said Hermione Granger is a representation of her. Every writer will write what they know, to an extent. But a lesson all writers must learn is when to break away from the autobiography of it all and add in the right mix of fictional elements.

 

 

 

The Boy Who Made Nicky Smile

When you’re four years old, the idea of undergoing spinal surgery is equivalent to being told you will someday walk on the moon. It’s nice to think the surgery might end the constant pain you’ve been feeling since birth, but it’s a long-shot, some people claim, and there’s always the worry that what is done to make things better might actually make things worse (somewhat similar to the contingency plan that called for President Nixon to record a message to the nation, in the event that the three lunar astronauts were unable to return to Earth).
I have a great memory of those days. (Not the moon-landing; I wasn’t here; the surgery-days). But I have an even better grasp on something that happened three years later, when I was seven. It has always stuck with me.
My surgery was experimental. That meant tons of follow-up appointments in California for many years afterward (and visits to Mickey Mouse and his Magic Kingdom). During one such appointment, the doctor’s assistant pulled me aside. “Derek,” she said in a whisper, “there’s a boy in your room” (I had had my own room in the surgery-days, a side affect of my wanting to watch children’s programming as opposed to the latest exploits of Erica Kane) “and he has never smiled before. I thought maybe you could walk in and tell him “hi”, and we’ll see what happens.”
Later in life, I would have been more apprehensive and I might have said no, flat and firm. But back then, I felt honored to be asked. I would do it. She said, “Great! His name is Nicky.”
I walked into the room, with my wobbly gait, and said, “Hi, Nicky.”
And he smiled. Almost instantly and for the first time in his life. His parents insisted they get a picture with “the boy who made Nicky smile”. I, of course, obliged. That picture is out there, somewhere, but I don’t have a copy.
I don’t know where that family is today. I don’t know what happened to Nicky. Life diverges at so many different forks I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Yet for that one, fleeting moment, we met in a hospital room in California, and he smiled. Whether it was the way I walked, the way I spoke, or just getting to talk to someone his own age after spending so long in a hospital room that smelled like pain,it doesn’t matter.
I am the boy who made Nicky smile.

California Chrome Goes For The Big Prize!

There has not been a triple crown winner in American horse racing since 1978, when Affirmed accomplished the feat. Triple crown horses belong to a very select club.

This Saturday, California Chrome, America’s new favorite racehorse, could enter that club with one more good trip down the track in New York. I, for one, am rooting for him and for his owners, DAP, which stands for “Dumb Ass Partners”. (Really, horse racing needs this shot in the arm.)

Go, Chrome, go!

A Writer MUST Write

It’s an odd feeling. But the truth of the occupation is: A writer must write. He (in my case) is drawn to the words, drawn to any instrument that will help them escape. And to the readers, who might breathe life into the characters who say and feel the words.
He is meticulous. He worries over the tiniest things that readers, more often than not, will overlook, if they’re enjoying a story. Does that comma belong there? Do I really want my character to say that? Does that piece of dialogue ring true?
For me, without my computer (I need the keyboard, too, the tactile experience it allows), my words would stay trapped up in my head forever, and I might very well go insane. I need this outlet, readers. I need to be read, or heard, or however you want to take in the words.
I know how lucky I am. First, that I was born and live in a great country that affords so much opportunity. Second, that I was born into a family that always encouraged creativity and expression, in whatever medium we saw fit. Third, that my physical challenges still allow me to be me. They don’t get in the way of that. And fourth, and last but not least, look at the era in which we live. If I had been born twenty years earlier than I was, my chances of knowing consciousness would not be good. The thing I live with daily–it’s an inconvenience–would have been the thing that took my life at its start.
When you look at life that way, you tend to feel things deeply. So when I hear of yet another shooting–this one near where I live–and that a life has been lost needlessly, I think, What would that person have contributed to the world that, now, they won’t?
I know how lucky I am.
But do we, as a whole, know how lucky we are, to be alive, to get to be writers or scientists or nurses or singers or actors?
A writer must write. There, I wrote something. I hope it makes you think.

The Happiest Place On Earth

Disneyland is, indeed, that place. And I’ve never been happier than when I’m riding through Tomorrow Land, Adventure Land, and their kin. For someone like me, it’s an even happier place than it might be for you.

Why?

Simple. I don’t have to walk that maze of perfectly manicured streets. It’s the one time I will okay riding in a wheelchair. And, the biggest perk: No lines. Or, at worst, very short lines.

The fact is, at Disneyland, I’m not different. I’m just me, and it just so happens that I’m also a V.I.P. Five friends or family can come with me to the front of the lines, too.

Guess who becomes the most popular person when a Disney trip is on the horizon? Thank you, Disney, for recognizing how nice it is to be able to fully enjoy your park, and for cutting down on those visitors who rent wheelchairs only to avoid the lines. I avoid those lines because I need to.
Thank you, also, for giving a kid who faced a monumental surgery the childhood memory of a lifetime. I got to meet Mickey Mouse at four years old. To the Disney folks, it probably seemed so simple, maybe even trivial. To a kid who'd just been through the kind of experience no one wants to face–the kind of experience that sometimes must be faced–it meant everything.

Bet On Yourself

Welcome to Wednesday.

After just short of a week’s worth of blogging, I have already learned so much about myself. Mainly that, in my creative writing, I have been holding myself back; telling myself, “Nope. You can’t write that sentence or that paragraph.” (Thanks to my own worst critic for those nonsensical gems.)

When I ask why, the response always differs just a little, but it’s always pretty much the same deal. “People won’t get it. They won’t get you. They’ll tell you you’re writing wrong.”

I don’t know about you, but many writers I know–heck, many people I know–have, at least once in their lives, not written out in full, or (in the case of non-writer folks) not had the guts to do something they later wished they had, and they looked back on the missed opportunity with regret. Why do these writers not write, these people not do as they wish?

They’re afraid of doing–or writing–wrong.

Think about this, if you’re feeling kind of stuck and wondering if you should write that novel, go for that new job, take that leap of faith, etc. What is the worst that will happen if you give yourself permission to say, “Yes, I want to do that” or if you jump in headfirst with blinders on and say, “I’ll trust myself and write that book”?

If the answer is, someone might say you did it all wrong, do it, anyway. Because you have just as much chance of getting it right.

Bet on yourself.

Now let’s see if, going forward, I can take my own advice. *Grin.*