The Talents I Got Didn’t Come With Fine-Motor Skills

I was always the kid with the limp.

I loved sports. I knew I’d never play them. What I would have given in my true youth for one day in an athlete’s body. To move like that. To run like that. To leave all challengers in the dust.

In high school, I was jealous–though never publicly–of the kids who could dunk, or pitch, or hit. Sure, those talents would fade with time and age, but they were so free, those kids. Not only that, they took their abilities so for granted. And they had cars. I’d never have a car. I didn’t  want to dunk as much as I wanted to drive down the road and buy a burger and a shake with a cute girl on my arm and then drive home, after a drive-in movie, late for  a curfew I knew I’d missed.

The talents I got didn’t come with fine-motor skills or hand-eye coordination. In fact, my talents’ Lyft left those things far behind. (I think it forgot to pick them up on the way to the airport or something.) My talent–singular, in a way, but amazing–was words. I could write and I could talk.

Talking gave me the ability to ask for help when I needed it. I often needed it (I often need it), though I never liked asking for it. Asking for help is weakness, I thought. Talking gave me the ability to show people who weren’t like me that I was like them enough to matter. That I should matter.

It was writing that showed me I did matter.

When a teacher would single out one of my stories and say, “Do you see, ladies and gentlemen? Do you see what Derek did there? Can you see why that’s good writing?” I beamed. Sure, the praise brought forth more than a few groans from my fellow students who couldn’t do what I did. Ironically, though, usually the groans came from the ones who could dunk or pitch or hit. But such praise also made some people re-evaluate how they saw me, and it was these people with whom I would want to communicate, anyway.

Writing, as a job, is more than difficult. I still want the praise from a teacher who’s no longer there to give it. The praise my brain is trained to expect, the praise for which it hungers. There’s no way to get it outside of reviews, and I may not get a review, or if I do it might not be the kindest thing ever written about me.

I am coming to terms with something tonight.

I write. There is a manuscript floating around out there that is the embodiment of my heart. Though fictional, it’s truer than anything that’s happened in my non-fiction life. I know people who, when one book doesn’t sell, they’ll simply write another. Have as many books ready as you can. Stuff them in drawers all around your house. When an agent finally comes calling, show them all. They will realize they’ve hit upon a treasure trove in you. I know people who can do that. I admire those people in much the same way as I used to admire the kids who could dunk and pitch and hit. But it needs to be okay–with me and for me–that I’m not one of them. My relationship with writing is analogous to my relationship with God. I have mine. You have yours (or not). And however we muddle through this existence, whatever we use our skill for, however we communicate with a higher power, or find our writer’s voices, that’s okay. No one way is better than another. They simply are, and they work for who they work for.

It’s interesting that I finally came to a point tonight where I could put that down for others to read. I’ve been trying to say it–if I’m honest with myself–for years.

 

 

 

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The Blank Page…

“I love to read thrillers,” many readers say.

“Or maybe I’ll dip into a horror story on this dreary, rain-soaked day.”

For writers, horror does not need to be written to be experienced. A writer experiences a heart-stopping horror story every time they sit down to compose a new piece.

The blank page. The menacing blank page.

It strikes fear into the hearts of even the most experienced authors.

“What if I can’t come up with anything new?”

“What if what I’ve written so far is all I’ll ever write?”

Writing is fear. If you haven’t experienced fear as a writer, you’ve clearly never edited anything.

Writing is bearing your soul with the hope that someone will gaze upon it with compassion, understanding, care. And then putting all your hope in a business that wants to sell your soul in amongst the sci-fi or the mysteries.

Every day, I wake up hopeful of two things.

Maybe I’ll write something good today.

Maybe I’ll read something good today.

I love what I do. Sure, I love to write, though it is quite a lonely pursuit. And it requires other people to do for me what I love doing for anyone I can. When I read a truly good new story in my position as an intern for the wonderful agent I work with, I immediately think, This needs to be on shelves everywhere. In the hands of readers. Being read and enjoyed. And, to whatever extent I can make that happen, I then champion the book. I’ll work with the author to smooth the rough edges. I’ll suggest fixes here, deletions there. I am personally on the lookout to remove every that or just or had which does not serve a story. “Tighten the prose, people!” When I say this, I imagine I’m the captain of a ship in a storm, securing its hatches as we get pummeled in the waves.

In that sense, if not any others, I end each day closer to publication. Be it for me or someone I know. So while I wake up each day–as do any authors who are being honest–afraid of the blank page, at the conclusion of a day I’m always thinking, Publication is possible. It’s one day closer. And, though I can’t write without this trusty computer, I imagine writing myself a note and keeping it permanently on my nightstand to glance at when I need the idea reinforced.

“Dear Derek,

You are a writer. This means you must write. You must be involved with the written word. somehow It also means you wake each day with an old fear burgeoning anew. A fear of the blank page. A fear that you can’t do what you were put on earth to do. Try to think of the blank page as that friend you envy; even though you’re trapped in a palsied body, Blank Page can be anyone he wants to be, can go anywhere he wants to go. You just have to tell him who and where.”

 

 

The Future: A Poem

I love poetry. Somehow, it allows you to say just what you want to say and nothing more.

The Future

Would that you could see the future,

What would it be that you’d see?

A bright winter day half a year away,

Your unborn child,

Aged ten,

Up in a tree?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Would you cheer it or would it cause groans?

Would you feel the bliss of your betrothed’s impassioned  kiss

Or cry at the year’s-later scene

When  it was cancer’s choice,

Not hers,

To leave you alone?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Would your family be the one you dream of,

As if they were conjured from your mind one lonely night,

Brought to life in that moment by your very sight?

Or is family something we build piece by piece,

And the most important piece is love?

 

Would that you could see the future,

Your future self would say,

“Of course this is the future.

How could it have turned out any other way?”

 

Would that you could see the future,

Your wife and child smiling back.

“We’re waiting for you in the future, dear.

Confidence that you’ll get here?

Oh, honey, for such confidence we do not lack.

Timmy turns ten this Sunday.

He’s excited for the tree house you’ll build.

Meanwhile, your book just found a bestseller list.

Your publisher is absolutely thrilled.”

 

This last one is the future I see,

Beautiful yet incomplete.

The particulars and minutia have yet to set themselves.

But, as far as I’m concerned,

It can’t be beat.

 

I say that not knowing the truth

Of the future that will stand in its place;

Whether its hallmark will be

A warm southern breeze

Or an Alaskan night cold as ice.

No one can know the future.

Would that you could.

It comes down to chance and choice.

But I hope and pray that the true future day

Will somehow be

Just as nice.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I Want For My Birthday…

Thursday will mark my 35th birthday. So now I can officially run for president! Yay! *Grin.* “I, Derek Eugene McFadden, do solemnly swear that I will faithfully execute…”

Everyone’s been asking me what I want for said birthday. So I thought I’d make a list. If you can make any of this happen, dear reader, whoever you are, that would be cool, and I would be forever grateful.

I would like:

-Scientists around the world to agree almost unanimously that climate change is human-made, so that we may finally go about doing something to fix it. (Wait, hasn’t that happened already? Oh, right, not the last part. The most important part.)

-For healthcare to forever and always cover those with pre-existing conditions, as I am, put bluntly, a walking pre-existing condition, and I kind of enjoy living a lot more than I’d enjoy not living. I speak for my fellow pre-existing conditioners in this belief. I was unable, after much reaearch, to find any pre-existing shampoos. *I am allowed one bad pun per blog. *

-All of my family to be happy and healthy and to be living the lives they always dreamed. That sounds simple. It. Is. Not.

-A new computer. Mine’s from 2009. It’s time for an upgrade. Just sayin’.

-To help the agent for whom I intern find that next great novel or memoir. That next great book everyone will be talking about tomorrow. And to have the author of that book know that, as far as editing and grammar and the like goes, I’ve got their back.

-To get to pet my loving Best Dog Ever again. I miss you, Scoot!

-For my Seattle Mariners to actually be relevant in the baseball world again. I don’t ask for much. I really don’t, though I fear this may be a bit too much.

-For one more phone call each with my Papa Dick and my Grandma Illene. So I can tell him about my book. He was always my first reader when I was a kid. If he thought it was good, I knew a story was good. And I can tell Grandma that it looks like her favorite show, American Idol, is on its way back! Seacrest… in? And she can tell me how she’s baking cookies in Heaven, and God Himself is a fan!

-Another trip to Disneyland. There can never be enough time spent in the Magic Kingdom. I love how invigorated I get when I walk in there. How creative I feel. How truly magical it is. Mr. Disney, I bow to you, sir. The place you dreamed of in the early 1950s is now the place of childhood joy and adult nostalgia and remembrance of childhood joy. And adult joy, too. Who are we kidding? *Grin.*

-But if there’s one thing I would love to have for my birthday, one thing above all others, it is this: My book, understood and loved by an agent and, later, a publisher in the same way that I love and understand it. They’ll want to collaborate with me on its words, its impact, its meaning. They’ll dream of possible covers the way I do. They’ll imagine that day when I’ll walk into Powell’s for the first time and… believe it or not… there’s my book, the hardcover, its dust-jacket gleaming in the mid-day light.

I will finally have the team I’ve always wanted behind my book!

Am I asking for too much? I think not. I put in the work. I am learning the business more and more each day. I try to be, for any author I work with–as an extension of both the agent I represent and myself–an integral part of the team behind the great art I believe in and a part of the team I imagine every author wishes to have behind them!

The Book I Love Most

Why Artists Are Artists

or

Why I Continue Searching For A Publisher For The Book I Love Most

The book I love most is homeless.

Searching for its shelf-home.

The book I love most is written,

But, like a vagabond,

It wanders and roams.

The streets of my mind are dead ends to it now.

For it is fully formed.

Nothing on these roads can aid it anymore;

Not even the bonfire of creativity that is

My newest story,

Unfinished,

Off to the side,

Can keep it warm.

It needs a place where it can be

Fulfilled,

Given autonomy

To achieve its highest and best.

Where it can parade into a reading of itself full of confidence of zest.

Its new lease on life will be courtesy  of

An agent who sees the merit,

An editor who agrees,

A publisher who puts it out

Without calling for any author-paid fees.

It will dance into the hands of readers

Who haven’t lived the story

But who have lived their stories and so,

Through lives that have seen similar fates

Can nonetheless relate.

Story, in all its forms,

Is connection.

It is: You are not alone.

Story invites you

To roam the streets of another’s mind

In search of a new thought,

A retrofitted, better home.

Why You Should Think Of My New Book As Our New Book!

The day is new and still dark. My favorite writing time. The house quiet, its dogs (they really do own the house) not yet awake and barking at everything, yet nothing in particular, at the same time. I think about how I came to be a writer while I sit at the appliance that allows me the vocation. It happened in my childhood, before I knew what my life would be.It gave me a freedom nothing else could match before I ever fathomed being or felt trapped in my body.

Before I wrote, I read. In this regard, I am my mother’s son. I freely admit I don’t read as widely as she, but it is from her I garnered a love of words. We particularly loved The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara, which we read together, about the battle of Gettysburg. If you haven’t read it, you should. His use of internal dialogue showed me how it was done and would be a part of the road map for my own style. I enjoyed Hemingway (“The Sun Also Rises” perfectly captures that time, that place, those bulls, those people) but always thought him a tad too spare with his prose. Richard Paul Evans, best known as the author of a short story turned novel (you can do that, if you have a publisher willing to be liberal in their typesetting) called The Christmas Box showed me that anyone with something to say could write a book that could touch people’s lives. That’s what I want to do, I told myself.  Mitch Albom showed me an author could write about God and spirituality without openly bowing to God or religion. My friend Jenny Milchman–author of such wonderful books as Cover Of Snow, Ruin Falls, and As Night Falls, suspenseful stories all–showed me how I could engage readers by talking to them and being kind and real. I had been afraid that no reader would attend a “book signing” of mine in the future, since I can’t physically sign books. When I have my signings, I will talk to each and every reader. Everyone has a story, and I will be interested to learn what, in their story, brought them to my book(s).

A book takes a long time to gestate. Even longer when you type it using two fingers, my preferred method. I considered several titles. In the end, I happily settled on Even God Makes Mistakes. The title is not a comment on religion as much as it is a statement about the character of God that I created. Although religion and I have never quite seen eye to eye; I will admit that.

Seven years after its initial keystrokes, my book is ready. It’s ready to be read, seen, enjoyed, discussed, understood. And its main character has the same cerebral palsy I do, something of which I am immensely proud,  because, in all the books I read, for all the years I’ve been reading, I have not come across a character that I could look at and say, “That guy could be me.”

But please don’t think that means it’s a book solely for people with palsy. Even God Makes Mistakes is a book for everyone. If you’re a reader, I want you to read it. If you’ve never sat down to take in a novel before, I want this to be your first. A writer’s purpose for writing anything is to communicate. I want to communicate with you. I want to show you something you’ve never seen before. I want you to read and tell your friends about that novel in which God is imperfect and the afterlife is just as much a journey as the life preceding it. And I hope you’ll get lost in the characters.

Though it hasn’t been published yet–so some might say this particular blog post might have been composed a tad early–I believe in it with everything in me. I believe the god or gods governing words wanted me to write it, and I hope my fingers have done it justice.

And I believe it isn’t just my new book. It’s ours. Because once a writer has finished composing, editing, and putting the finishing touches on his work, there comes a point when it is no longer his, when it ceases to belong to any one person but can be shared by everyone.

Come visit me to learn more about my upcoming novel. http://www.facebook.com/evengodmakesmistakes. Tell anyone you think might be interested! We are going to change the world, one reader at a time!

A Father’s Day Realization

“You’re so brave.”

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that phrase. There’s nothing to do when someone says it besides smile, blush, and say an awkward, too-quiet: “Thanks.” Because I don’t feel all that brave. I live my life. That’s what I do. I live my life, letting the days pile up behind each other, just as everyone else does, and hopefully in those days I’ve done and said things that will make the world a bit better for everyone else.

I am someone who may not see himself as all that “brave”, but I do embrace my creativity. And for this creativity I have always needed an outlet. I found mine early. Writing.

In elementary school, a teacher told my dad, “Derek will be published someday.”

My dad, a writer himself, took this to heart and told me what the teacher had said. I never wrote because he wrote. I wrote because I had to. But the fact that he wrote also let us bond on that level.

For years, writing gave me reason. It was the thing that made all my struggles worthwhile. If I could eventually turn all of them into stories that let people see the world anew through my not-so-good eyes, then they wouldn’t really have been struggles after all, would they? Tests, maybe, but not struggles.

Many years passed. I was twenty-six by the time I began a novel I described as: “My story, fictionalized and embellished, but hopefully real.” I had never written a novel before, favoring short stories and poetry instead, and doubted if I could manage it.

Well, I did.

But after working as hard as I possibly could to turn it out, I let someone else decide it wasn’t any good before it had the chance to be anything. “Why are you writing?” this person said. “It’s not like it’s going to go anywhere. You should get a real job.” You’re not making any money from writing, so stop, they meant.

I let myself believe that this one measuring stick, cash, was a judge of talent. I sunk deep down into myself. And I stopped writing. Because what was the point, anyway?

It has taken me to this very day to drag myself up out of my scared-gopher hole. (Did you know us writers live in gopher holes?) To say to myself with conviction, “That person didn’t know what they were talking about!” (There are some people who get some kind of joy out of seeing others languish; I’ve never understood it, and I never will). But I did it. I’m writing again, working on a couple new pieces, and wishing my father, a fellow writer and one of the best people I know, luck at finding a publisher who believes in him the way all writers should believe in themselves. I wish that for him on this Father’s Day, his 33rd.

If you want to call me brave, that’s fine. But call me brave not for living my life, because we all do that. Call me brave because I recognized my talent and, when challenged–and through much reflection–I finally refused to let someone who didn’t see it convince me it wasn’t there to be seen.

For that, I’m brave.

A Year Of Blogging…. And A Glimpse Into My Work….

Hi, all:

I apologize in advance for the length of this one. There’s a good reason, and I hope you’ll give it a read, because your opinion(s) matter(s) greatly to this guy.

In the past year I:

Started this blog,

Lost my dog,

Wondered if I could publish without the prolonged finding-an-agent prologue.

I saw great shows (be they movies or plays or football and baseball games)

Knew awful lows,

And wondered at the words I chose,

A writer’s near-constant self-query.

I love writing. It is the single best thing I know how to do, besides making my friends and family smile, and when I feel like I have something to say (which isn’t always but does happen often) I like knowing they’re curious where my thoughts are.

Like, right now, I’m hoping and wishing for the self-driving car. For the freedom of, “I can go anywhere I want.”

I’m crossing my fingers that there are readers eager for the words in my head,

That they exist, and delight as much in reading new sentences

As I do in seeing my fresh words read.

In knowing that my characters more than a few reader’s dreams shall haunt.

I am scared, if I’m being genuinely honest. I’m scared that my stories, which many a friend tells me are worthy and worthwhile are instead nothing but the erstwhile dreams of a kid with cerebral palsy looking for acceptance and kindness, and searching for his own truth, finding it to varying degrees only.

I have completed a novel. For me, the truest distillation of my “stories” yet. I believe it is what it needs to be; it is what it was always meant to be. However, there is that nagging voice, that over-the-shoulder editor, that doubter extraordinaire, who says, Really? Wasn’t your story also always meant to be read by the most people you could possibly entice to read it? You don’t write just to pat yourself on the back, do you? And so far who’s read it besides a few selected among that friends and family group you want so much to make smile?

With this thought heavy on my mind, I offer to you a glimpse, the first tiny sliver, of a story that came together over seven and a half years touched with and by self-discovery, faith–in myself and others–and an all-too-uncommon willingness to fail in order to succeed.

I would love to hear your thoughts on my novel’s first chapter, printed here. It begins with a poem.

I could tell you life is fleeting.

But that’s a truth everyone knows.

It doesn’t bear repeating,

Isn’t worthy of a refrain

Read while a tired body lies in repose.

As it’s a fact that too often shows

How little control we mortals maintain.

-An excerpt from the poem Nothing Is Forever by Madeline Mailer

Chapter 1.

Death, Part 1

                

                  Terrence McDonald is 55. The year is 2045.

        

         The TV is on, and I’m on the couch, leaning as far back as I can. My heavy, indecisive brown eyes—their lenses blurred ever since my tumultuous entrance–flutter between open and shut. I am half-watching half-listening to a football game on a Sunday afternoon. Was that the doorbell?

“Who is it?” I call out, expecting to hear my daughter Megan’s voice. These days she is the one person who visits me. The only person who knows I’m making my home in this little oasis fashioned from wood felled by my own hand.

“Terry, it’s Mom. I’m here to help you move.”

         My mom? That’s not possible. She’s…

         Wait, to help me move? Oh, God.

I rise from the couch and glance back at my lifeless body. Five-foot-eight standing up, but now it’s slumped over, grayish-blue. A few stray locks of the black hair my father gave me spill over into my unseeing eyes.

         Shit. I still had more I wanted to do, damn it! Was it my cerebral palsy? We’ve co-existed forever. Has it somehow—in its slow, indirect way—finally done me in?

I turn back around toward the TV, and I see my mom materialize in front of me, a concerned look on her face.

“Are you okay?”

“No, of course not!” I scream. “So is that it? I’m dead. Just like that?”

She doesn’t say anything, but her silence says everything.

“How? How did I die?”

Mom puts her hand on my shoulder like she always did when I was a kid and I was upset and needed some time to calm down. “You don’t remember?”

“No, Mom. If I remembered, why would I ask?”

She is silent for another beat. “If you don’t remember… then it’s probably best if I stay quiet for now. My job is to take you Home.”

“I am home,” I shoot back.

“You don’t understand. Where I’m taking you… this is a different kind of Home. This is the place where you’ll find out what happens next.”

“Is there any way around this? Any way at all?”

These words are as close as I’ve ever come to arguing with my mom. That’s because arguing with her does not come naturally to me. And, considering the life I have, I never thought I’d hear myself plead for it.

“No, Terry. I’m sorry, but there’s not. You know that, if there were a way, I’d tell you what it was. But this has been decided.”

I pull away from her. Am I frightened? No, not exactly. But I am… disheartened.

Before I can get too far away, she takes my hand. “Come with me, Terry. I love you.”

It’ s been so long since my mother said those words to me—I love you—that I’d forgotten how true and convincing they sound in her voice, and how much I missed them—and her.

Without warning, we’re not in the cabin anymore, and I find myself in a house so familiar I am comfortable in seconds. The smells are familiar. The floor plan. The art on the walls. This is a replica of the home I shared with my wife, before she got sick and I moved into the cabin.

“See, it’s not so bad,” Mom is saying. “I picked it out and furnished it myself. Just for you.”

It is a nice place. Much nicer than I’m used to these days, that’s for sure. Not that I have anything but a vague idea where we are.

Now that I’ve calmed down some, it isn’t just this new house I’m appraising. I’m also getting my first real good look at Mom in twenty years. Hers is a face looking as youthful today as it appeared in the photograph announcing her entrance into womanhood—taken in her eighteenth year. I remember seeing this picture in a family album decades ago.

“You’ve got all the comforts you’re used to,” Mom explains. “Along with a couple you might have forgotten about.”

“So this is where I’ll be living now?”

The frown on her face hints at the fact that things aren’t that simple. “Well, that depends on your appointment, but I sure hope you will. Your father and I are just down the street.”

“Dad’s here?”

“Yes, he made it.” She smiles.

“My appointment?”

“Everyone has an appointment when they first get here.”

“What happens? Who is the appointment with?”

“I can’t tell you, Terr.” Mom takes a seat in the first of three chairs arranged in front of my large television screen. This is the only liberty she’s taken in the design. The original home had two chairs in front of this television, because two was enough for Mattie and me, but I sense Mom gave me the extra seat in case I should have company over. “Those who have been through their own appointments, like me, are expressly forbidden from sharing any details with newcomers, like you. Each one is different based on the soul and the life it concerns.”

“Ah.” Now I’m nervous. And not just because I get the feeling at this moment that Mom is spouting some section of a well-rehearsed monologue. I wonder if, at this appointment, everything in a person’s life is considered.

“Yes, everything is considered,” Mom says.

I shoot her a confused glance. Did she just read my mind?

“Oh, I’m sorry. We don’t often use spoken words or languages here. I mean, we can. And we will, especially in cases when explanations or announcements need to be delivered to a large number of people. God prefers spoken language Himself. But it’s more common, for those who have been Home a while, to communicate telepathically. I thought that was what you were doing.”

I shake my head.

“Well, in a few days, once you’re feeling acclimated, let me know. You can call me on this.” Mom produces what looks like a cell phone. “That’s a direct line to me and me alone. When you’re ready, I’ll come and pick you up and take you to your appointment.”

“Okay.”

         But first, she thinks, get some rest. You look terrible.

I am a little tired, but what do you expect? I’m dead.

“You’re getting the hang of our telepathy already.” She laughs, gives me a hug. “I’ve gotta get back to cook your father’s pot roast, or he might go a little nuts.”

Sounds like Dad. A hungry Carl McDonald means an irritable, hard-to-deal-with Carl McDonald (I was going to say hard-to-live with, but the word doesn’t fit).

Mom pats my shoulder and disappears. This new Home is going to mean some big adjustments for me.

                                    ***

 

I’m going to guess it’s taken me the better part of three days—spent resting and recuperating from life–to convince myself I’m really dead and, secondly, I’m ready to face whatever might be in store for me. I have to guess at how much time has passed because, as it turns out, this new home of mine–furnished by my mom–does not include a clock. Not one. I only discovered this flaw after she departed, so there was no way to readily remedy it. Stores specializing in electronics aren’t plentiful in The Afterlife.

Wait, that’s not true. Maybe they are. I don’t know what lies beyond these four walls yet. I’ve barely moved since I got here. But I am as prepared as I’ll ever be for my personal appointment, so I pull out the cell phone Mom gave me for just this situation. It doesn’t require dialing. My connection to her is immediate.

“Terry?” she says.

“Hi, Mom.”

“You’re ready for your appointment?”

“I guess.”

“Okay.” She pauses, a bit too long for your run-of-the-mill pause. Something’s bothering her. “Okay, I’m glad to hear it.”

“What’s wrong? You’re gonna pick me up, right?”

“I was planning on it, but it looks like your Grandpa Jack needs to be picked up today.”

“Oh, you mean he’s-”

“Yep.”

“I’m sorry, Mom. Boy, he lived forever, didn’t he?”

She laughs. “Pretty darn close. I’m just glad he got to go out the way he wanted; peacefully, in his sleep. Anyway, your dad and I have to be there for him, but I’m sending your old friend Charlie out to you. He’ll get you where you need to go, no problem.”

Charlie. How nice it will be to see him again. It’s been a long time. This isn’t the only thought I have upon hearing Charlie will be here soon, but it’s the only thought I feel comfortable sharing, in case Mom can read my thoughts through the phone as easily as she could standing in the same room.

“Okay, thanks. Tell Grandpa Jack I say hi.”

“I will. And you call me when you and Charlie get to your appointment. Otherwise, you’ll have me worried.”

“Sure thing.”

We hang up, and I wait. There’s the sound of tires churning gravel and a knock at the door twenty minutes later… I think. I answer it.

“Charlie Ewell’s limousine service.” He smiles and nods his head toward a jet-black vehicle closely related to a town car that’s parked nearby.

I step back. Blink my eyes. Once. Twice. He’s still there. My mind doesn’t know how to make sense of this.

It really is Charlie. Well, of course it is. Mom told you he was on the way. Yet despite my mom’s assurance, there is this part of me that snickers at most religions, labels them NOT FOR ME, and I never warmed all the way up to the idea of Heaven. Therefor, even after seeing her again, I doubted that my old friend Charlie would show up. You’re telling me Charlie will be here! Charlie? Yeah, right.

Just like I couldn’t bring myself to argue with her—Charlie can’t possibly be on his way, Mom!–I can’t deny it now.

“It’s you,” I say.

“Sure it’s me,” Charlie says, as though he’s just shown up to my most recent—and last?– birthday party, cheer on his face, a gift in his hand.

“Like, really you.”

“Yeah. It’s really me.”

         “How?”

“I know it’s a lot to take in when you’re new,” he says, “or when you’ve just come back. I was so glad when your mom called and asked me if I would pick you up. I’ve missed you so much.”

“Same here,” I admit. The initial shock of seeing Charlie is ebbing slowly, like adrenaline leeching out of my bloodstream after an earthquake.

“It’s so good to see you, Charlie.” We enfold each other in a backslapping, how-have-you-been hug.

When we’re apart again, he says, “And you, Terry. It’s just now dawning on me how odd this circumstance is.”

“True. But under what other circumstances would we see each other?”

“Good point. In one of your dreams, maybe. You ready to get going?”

“Sure. Is there a set time we have to be there? My mom always said it’s better to be early than late, no matter what the occasion.”

He throws his car keys in the air, catches them, as we make our way down my temporary home’s front steps.

“Don’t worry about time anymore,” he reveals. “Time is a human invention. It is seldom kept here.”

“That would explain the lack of clocks.”

“Which always throws newcomers off. And don’t be nervous. Sure, no one who’s been through an appointment can tell you what your appointment will be like. That’s because appointments are unique to each soul, but they aren’t to be feared. Your appointment is a place where you will get the chance to ask questions and learn.” Charlie flashes a quick grin. He opens one of the back doors for me, and I see that in the car rides an elegant woman. “Terrence McDonald, this is my wife, Patty Ewell.”

Patty turns in her seat, puts out her hand. “It truly is a pleasure to meet you, Terrence. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

I give her my hand, as is customary, but can find no words. I’ve never met Patty before. She passed away the night I made Charlie’s acquaintance.

The Lost Art Of Loyalty

This is a story. It is fictional. Any resemblance to actual people, while intended as an honor, is not intended as a re-telling of any event that has actually taken place, or ever will. It is a piece speculating on how a writer might find a second novel in among his musings, and a reminder to remember why a writer writes, in the first place.

We must find that agent and that publisher, in our writing journey, who will be as loyal to us–and to our first book, be it a mega-seller or a modest performer–as to our last.

The book was a big hit. It was after it hit, the sound reverberating through the “book world”, that several media outlets clambered to know what he’d do next. A sequal? A new novel whose characters have only minimal ties to the characters people grew to so love? they speculated.

He was scared. Sure, readers had loved his book–his baby, had treated it with the kind of reverence he could only have dreamed of previously, before anyone knew his name–but what if they detested his next effort? What would his next effort be? Despite the speculation, he had no idea. He didn’t like any of the ideas occupying his mind right now. No wonder Harper Lee never wrote another book, he thought. I don’t blame her.

He called his best friend for advice. Since childhood, Luke had always been that guy, the guy he trusted to tell it to him straight, even if straight wasn’t the answer he wanted to hear. Often, it was the one he needed. Am I freaking out for no good reason? he wondered, to pass the time as the phone rang.

“Hey, dude, what’s up?” A second-ring answer.

Yep, that’s Luke. Glad I called. And happy to help, if I need a hand. Which, in a figurative sense, I do right now more than ever.

“I’ve finally got everything I’ve ever wanted,” he explained, despensing with any preamble. “Readers. A real publisher. So why aren’t I…?” He searched for the word, couldn’t find it.

“Happy?” Luke ventured.

“No, that’s not it. I’m happy. I’m just not…”

“Content?”

“Yeah. When I was a kid, I knew I was going to be a writer. We both did. I struggled like hell to get there. But I finally did. So, now that I’ve got what I wanted all those years ago, why aren’t I content?”

“How long has it been since we hung out? You and I?” Luke asked, after a pause.

“I don’t know,” the author said, not liking the taste of that truth on his tongue.

“Six months. It’s been six months, dude. Now, you know me. I’m never gonna begrudge you your dream, and I know you wouldn’t begrudge me mine. But what was it you said to me when we were kids? You said, and I quote, ‘If I ever lose sight of why I write, you be sure to let me know, okay?’ Today, I’m letting you know.”

“I’m sorry that we haven’t hung out in a while. But we both got busy. You have to admit that.”

Luke gave an mm-hmmm in acknowlesgement.

“And then my book hit. And, just like that, the roller-coaster started. I finally had the chance to prove all those people who ever doubted me were dead-wrong.”

“I’m your best friend, man,” Luke said. “So you can go half a year and not talk to me if you want–I hope you won’t, from now on; I hope you’re back to stay–and our friendship won’t change. But there are two things you need to remember.

“Your book may be big right now, bud,  but in the end it’s just a book. It’s just a story printed on pages bound between covers. A humble piece of art. It may have struck a chord wit the public, but that chime, as so many others before it, will fade.”

“What’s the second thing I need to remember?” The author wanted to change the subject, in any way he could.

“That the people who believed in you from the start, before the agent, the publisher, the readers, the book signings, the whatever-else–I’m talking about your brothers and your sister, your parents, your girlfriend, me–we didn’t need your book to sell to have your talent confirmed to us. We knew it was there and it was real all along. You used to be someone who believed in loyalty and humility…”

“I think I still am that person…” I hope, anyway.

“Someone who had a fire in his belly to be great. And now… sure, your book’s big, but are you the great man you always wanted to be? I’d be willing to bet you’re not there yet. Because, somewhere deep inside, you’re worried that you were just a flash in the pan. That that one book might be all you’ll ever do. And that worry is frightening your talent, so that it doesn’t want to show itself. It doesn’t want to give you anything more. And you waited so long to call me… because you didn’t want me to confirm what you already feared you knew.

“Now, it’s time for your talent to stop being afraid of what it might accomplish, and it’s time for you to stop being afraid of your talent.  It’s there to help you, if you’ll let it. You’re a writer, no matter how many books that publisher of yours asks you for. Who cares if they don’t like your next book, as long as you like it? You’re a writer because you want to be a writer, and no one can take that designation away from you  but you.

“But, more than that, you’ve always tried your best to be humble and loyal. That effort isn’t lost on the people who appreciate you most. Don’t let that guy get lost in all that you’re doing now. And, just because loyalty is a lost art in business,  that  doesn’t mean it should be a lost art in life.”

“Now, how about we meet up for lunch?” Luke finishes. “Giving my friends advice makes me hungry.”