The End of Everything Has Begun

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Greyland, the sequel to The Rages is now available. It’s a twisted world inside my head. Not quite as twisted as the real world, but still.

Part III of the series, Redemption, and Part IV, The Vale, will be available by the end of the year. I’ve got some writing to finish.

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Welcome to Walmart

I went to Walmart a little bit ago. Don’t be alarmed. I mostly kept my eyes averted and made it out virtually unscathed.

I went in search of a new tube for my wife’s bike. As I walked past the racks of new bikes, I paused and was looking at all the models and the prices.

There was a young couple with their children there as well, talking to an older gentleman. He was dressed in jeans and a wrinkled button-up shirt. He was showing them the different bikes and when they finally settled on one, he wished them a good day.

Then he came to me and asked “can I help you?” He didn’t have anything that identified him as an employee of the store.

Normally I try and get into Walmart (or any store really) without speaking to anyone. It’s one of the things I love about self-checkout. I shook my head and told him, “no, I’m just here for a bike tube.”

He followed me to the tubes and gave me suggestions on how I could cut the old tube and line the tire with it as added protection. I nodded and said it sounded like a fine idea. When I wandered back to the new bikes, he pointed out which ones were on sale and what the best deals were.

A woman looking for a bike for her husband for Father’s Day asked him for help. She had a sales ad in her hand and was looking for that particular bike. He pointed it out and removed it from the upper rack for her and she went on her way.

I wandered off to get a basketball backboard for my daughter and when I came back, he was gone.

I ended up buying my wife a new bike. As I was wheeling it out of the store the man helping others choose bikes was leaving as well. He had a half gallon of milk and a few items of groceries in his hand.

I considered the fact that the best salesperson I’ve ever met at Walmart didn’t work there. It also struck me that perhaps this was his way of being part of something, of having people to interact with.

I hope he isn’t alone, but perhaps he is.

And perhaps I shouldn’t be in such a hurry and avert my eyes from my neighbors anymore.

A Man in Boxers with a Spear

My chosen profession is Safety Manager. I didn’t choose this profession, mind you, it chose me. At first it was an additional duty, perhaps given by my former employer as punishment, or warning to others, I’m not sure.

I pause to consider the wisdom of my profession, from time to time, when I do things that are altogether stupid, which happens at such frequency that I am often left in a dazed state.

One of those times happened last summer, when I found myself a bachelor for several weeks. My wife and youngest daughter traveled to Oklahoma to help family, leaving me unsupervised.

In the middle of the night I was awakened by a sound.

BEEP

I’m a light sleeper, so the beep at 2:30 in the morning had my attention. The beep was coming from one of the dozen or so smoke alarms on the main floor of our house. The smoke alarms are wired into the electrical system, but they have 9-volt batteries as backups. Whenever the life of the batteries is spent, they beep their imminent demise. Never at 2:30 in the afternoon, only at 2:30 at night. This was one of those times.

I crawled out of bed and went in search of the dying battery.

BEEP

I thought it was the smoke alarm right outside the master bedroom, which was altogether a good thing. We have vaulted ceilings in our house and the smoke alarm in the hallway was within reach. I went to the garage and grabbed my four-foot stepladder and removed the dying battery. I placed it on the kitchen counter and crawled back into bed.

Approximately 45-seconds later I heard

BEEP

And crawled back out of bed. It wasn’t the smoke alarm in the hallway. It was the smoke alarm in the master bedroom, strategically placed at the top of our vaulted ceiling.

I am just over six feet tall, but for reasons that escape me now, I took my four-foot stepladder, climbed up and reached for the smoke alarm. I was at least one of me short. Perhaps I thought I had hidden abilities and might suddenly become Stretch Armstrong or Inspector Gadget and my arms would span the distance. I found I possessed no such hidden abilities.

So I stood and stared at the smoke alarm and willed it to be silent.

BEEP.

At this point I should clarify that I wasn’t strictly alone in my house. Our two dogs were with me. They watched what I was doing and, as they often do, went to their beds and covered their eyes with their paws. One of them groaned. I wish they wouldn’t do that, because I find it distracting.

I considered just going downstairs to the guest room and ignoring the dying battery. But knowing the smoke alarm was beeping upstairs (even if I couldn’t hear it) would keep me awake.

Then I remembered. I had a spear.

I have a spear because I like to torture myself (and anyone fool enough to follow me) with the Spartan Race. The obstacle course requires the idiot participants to take part in a spear throw. If you don’t successfully complete the spear throw (or any other obstacle) you have to do burpees. Anyone who has seen me will understand that me throwing myself to the ground and jumping back up again is not a pleasant thing in the least. I bought the spear to practice in hopes of avoiding burpees.

It was in my office, waiting for me.

So I grabbed the spear and climbed up my four-foot stepladder in my boxer shorts, reaching for the smoke alarm.

(For those who have gazed upon me in all my glory, I want to pause a moment and let that mental image sink in; of me in my boxer shorts, spear in my hand, standing on a stepladder reaching for a smoke alarm. Have you got it? Has it seared itself into your mind? Good. I’ll continue.)

With the tip of the spear I was able to pry open the cover on the smoke alarm and pop the dying 9-volt battery from its place. I put it on the kitchen counter and crawled back into bed.

Two hours later my alarm went off

BEEP.

And I considered the fact I was a Safety Manager and had recently done what I encourage my co-workers never to do.

It was then I realized I wasn’t made a Safety Manager as punishment. I was made a Safety Manager as a warning to others.

That is all.

Hold the Light

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Hold the light. That’s about the only command I can remember from my Dad growing up. I idolized him, as I think most lucky kids do. So I was his shadow.

Whenever I got the chance I would go to work with him, no matter what the work might be. For a time he wore the hat as town Marshal for Huntington, Utah. What that meant, in reality, was that he was chief of the volunteer fire department, in charge of law enforcement, grave digging, and utilities for the city. He spent most of his time digging ditches, graves, and putting in water and sewer lines.

The vehicle he usually drove while at work was an old backhoe. When I got the chance to go to work with him (I was seven or so), I rode in the bucket (I know, I’m a Safety Guy now, go figure).

When he didn’t work for the city, he worked on the farm. He cut off the handle of a shovel and I would shadow him (my cut-off shovel in my hands, his big one in his) as he checked the fields and irrigated. It was and is the greatest memory of my childhood. There wasn’t anything my Dad couldn’t do.

Whenever one of our cars or trucks would break down, he would go about fixing it with whatever he had on hand, and I would hold the light. I’d climb up on the bumper and hold the light while he changed an alternator, adjusted a carburetor, or switched out a radiator hose. He would tell me “hold the light” and I would do my best, but I have to admit, I let it drift more than I should have.

But he never told me what he was doing. It was always just “hold the light.” So I held it.

I never really learned what he was doing or why he was doing it, and his lips would quiver while he worked, which wasn’t a good sign, so I didn’t ask as many questions as I should have.

As a child, the one time I can remember him giving me clear directions was when I dug out the basement of our house in Murray. I was 13 or so. We lived in a rambler and Dad worked for a construction company. The president of the company would let him borrow equipment from time to time on the weekends and one weekend he came home with a backhoe and the memories of riding in the bucket made me smile.

He dug a trench in the front yard, below the foundation and we stared down at the dirt beneath the house. He handed me a shovel and a pick and said, “Start digging.” But before I did, we got on hands and knees and went into the crawl space. He pointed out each support under the house and told me, “Don’t dig here.”

I spent that summer digging under our house. When the digging got too far to throw it into the trench, he lowered down a wheelbarrow. I would fill up the trench and he would borrow the backhoe to remove what I had dug out.

In the fall the digging was done and he poured concrete and put up cinderblock walls along the foundation. What help I could provide was pretty much “hold the light.” I wasn’t strong enough to haul the concrete in a wheelbarrow. But he was.

When the work was done and it was time to build the interior walls, he took me into the basement and told me “tell me where you want your room.” I drew out a pretty big one, I have to admit. It was much larger than the room he shared with my Mom. And he put up the walls. I stayed there until the day I went out on my own.

As an adult, the only time I can recall him giving me instruction was after I was a father myself.  I was in the Air Force and found myself a single parent without transportation. My car was a 1976 Cutlass Supreme and the water pump had gone out. I had no idea how to fix it and as an Airman First Class, I certainly couldn’t pay anyone to fix it for me.

So I called Dad collect (for you millennials, collect calls were a thing, look it up) and he walked me through how to replace a water pump and I was able to stop carrying my son on my shoulders to daycare while I went to work.

Decades later, the only thing I regret about my upbringing is that my Dad told me to “hold the light” and never explained to me why. What was he doing? Why was he doing it? How did it work?

I resent my Dad for nothing. He was my hero then, and he still is. But I regret the things he didn’t teach me, because I am still in need of the learning.

With most of my children now raised, I look back and think that I wasn’t very good at teaching them what I had learned, either. I didn’t say “hold the light” because I was making it up as I went along (anyone that has seen my work can plainly see this).

So, if you know how to do something well, pass it along to those interested.

I still remember how to run a shovel and a pick, ride in a backhoe bucket . . . and hold the light.

That is all.

 

Small Talk with a Wave

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Our neighbor came over last night to offer us some fresh peaches. We were grateful, because we sure do love peaches. I answered the door, and if it had remained a conversation between the two of us, it would have been a pretty straightforward exchange.

“Would you like some peaches?” My neighbor would have asked.

“We would love some peaches!” I would exclaim.

I would take the peaches, thank my neighbor, and call it a pleasant conversation.

But my wife came to the door with me, and once the peaches passed from my neighbor’s hand to my own, the small talk commenced.

I am not an expert on small talk. I seldom, if ever engage in this alien form of communication. It baffles me, actually. If small talk is a muscle in your body, mine is woefully undeveloped. My wife, however, has a small talk muscle of Herculean strength. So, when the small talk commenced, I exited the scene, because that is what I do. Someone who doesn’t small talk is usually uncomfortable around those who do. I just sit there, trying to think of something to say with a constipated look on my face from the strain of exercising mental muscles I do not possess.

I don’t think I’m an unfriendly person (well, I’m at least not openly hostile). I just think a good conversation can normally be condensed into one word: “Hey!”

H = How are you?

E = Everything’s fine.

Y= Yes, we should definitely talk again soon.

The beautiful thing about the “Hey Conversation,” is that you don’t actually have to say the words. A wave is the sign language version of the “Hey Conversation.” And if your hands are busy, a nod of the head accomplishes the same thing.

It’s a benefit in a relationship to have one person without the ability to engage in small talk. It makes getting things done much easier, like going to the grocery store. I can make a run to the local market three and a half hours faster than my wife. When I arrive home, my wife will ask me if I saw anybody while I was there.

“I saw Bob.”

“Bob? What did Bob have to say?”

“He said, Hey!”

So while my wife and our neighbor engaged in small talk, I went to our bedroom. I napped for a time, clipped my toenails, then fished the lint out of my bellybutton and used it to knit myself a nice pair of socks. After a while I thought I would step outside and watch the moon come up. I stared at the stars, meditated and contemplated the meaning of life.

I listened to the crickets and in a moment of deep insight I comprehended what they had been trying to communicate to humanity all these ages: “The end is coming. The end is coming. The end is coming.” Or maybe it was just “Hey.” It was hard to be sure.

Eventually my wife came out to find me. Her small talk with our neighbor had ended.

She sat beside me, smiled, and said, “Hey!”

Which is why I love her so.

Putting Papa Out to Pasture

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My wife and I had the chance to spend most of the weekend with two of our granddaughters while their Mom and Dad were in the hospital to welcome their new sister into the world.

The oldest of their girls, Paisyn, isn’t quite three-years-old, and she reminds me of her mother so much it hurts. On Saturday she was riding her stick horse all over the house. She would gallop into the living room; rub the side of her stick horse’s head and say, “Whoa, boy, slow down. Settle down.” Then she would gallop away.

Later that morning she walked over to me with her stick horse in her hand. She propped it up beside the couch I was sitting on. She had attached a lead rope to its bridle and she handed it to me. “Hold onto him, Papa,” she said. Then she went to her room to play.

Whenever she came back into the living room, if I wasn’t holding onto the lead rope, she would put it back in my hands and sternly say, “Hold him, Papa.”

In the afternoon she came back to me with the lead rope in her hand. She wrapped it around my left wrist, slipped it into a knot, and pulled. It cinched tight (I asked her parents who taught her to do this, and they said she taught herself).

“Come on horse,” she said, and gave it a tug. So, being an obedient horse, I stood up and let her lead me. She led me into the kitchen, where my glass of ice water was sitting on the counter. She let me have a drink, and I was grateful her parents didn’t keep hay (or a curry comb) in the kitchen. Then she led me back to the couch.

She removed the lead rope and smiled, and I smiled back. “Thanks for putting me in the field for the night,” I said.

She looked at me quizzically, raised her eyebrows, and reattached the lead rope, only tighter this time. The circulation in my hand was being cut off.

“Come on, Papa,” she said.

I let her lead me again. We were heading for the back door. “Where are we going now?” I asked.

“To the field,” she said.

“I don’t really want to go to the field, Paisyn,” I said (it may have been a plea).

So she led me back to the couch and removed the lead rope.

That was a close one. I know there’s hay out there. Maybe even a curry comb.

World Building, One Brick at a Time

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I’ve been taken to task by readers for not providing enough information about the world I’ve built in my novel. It’s a point well taken and one I struggle with when I force myself to sit down at the keyboard and starting spinning a tale.

Personally, I don’t like a whole lot of “info-dumping” in a novel. Give me the basics, tease me along the way, and I’ll figure it out (or not). It’s a fine line between too much and not enough, but, as for me, I’d prefer the “not enough” to the “too much.” I’ve put down a number of novels because I couldn’t put up with page upon page of narrative (or pointless dialogue) on why the world the characters live in works the way that it works. I got it, move along.

When my youngest son was a teenager he read J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Hobbit and loved it, so I gave him my copy of The Lord of the Rings. He brought it back to me a couple of weeks later and said he gave up. He couldn’t get past page upon page describing how, what and how often a Hobbit eats. And that was Tolkien!

I remembered that when I finally stopped dreaming about writing and actually started writing. I’m far from being an expert in anything, especially writing, but I wanted to give my take on the process of World Building and ask for ideas/arguments/pointless rants on the subject.

As for me, when I imagine the world I’m trying to build, I put the story first and the World Building second. It’s about the story, not the world I’ve imagined it taking place in.

The story comes first.

I remember as a teenager sitting in a dark theatre watching Raiders of the Lost Ark. Those first 10 minutes changed everything about what I expected an action movie to look and feel like. The story grabbed you by the throat and drug you along and you’d better move your feet if you wanted to keep up. I loved it. Still do.

I look for the same thing in a novel. Tell me your story. I’ll jump into the deep end of the pool on whatever you’ve written and you keep me from drowning by throwing me a life preserver of information so I can tread water. Don’t send me a battleship of information overload, because when you do, I’ve lost your story.

I was once part of a novel critique group with other aspiring authors who read the first chapter of my novel and told me if I didn’t give details on the technology I explained on page three by the end of the chapter, then I had lost them. I let them be lost. It wasn’t about the technology, it was about the story.

For me the goal is to provide enough information to keep readers from being confused about the world I’m presenting them. By the end of the book, they should understand how this world works. If they don’t, I’ve failed. If I have more than a couple of paragraphs explaining a particular detail of the world I’ve built, I also consider myself to have failed. But that’s just me.

What do you think? At what point in World Building do you need to part from the story and build your world?

Go Write a Book

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I am a middle child. Well, actually, my older brother is the middle child, but he is also the oldest of the boys, so I inherited the title and all the benefits that come with it.

Because of that, I spent a great deal of time fading into the background. I became pretty good at it, actually. It’s a talent I still try to use to the best of my ability. I became an “Observer.” Back when I was a little boy I spent a great deal of my time under the couch (I was pretty small), listening to what the rest of the family was saying and doing.

When I became a teenager, because I could no longer fit under the couch, I became bored rather easily. I didn’t have a lot of friends, but I had an abundance of overactive imagination.

The summer of my 13th year, I must have been driving my Mom crazy with my questions and moaning about being bored, and my Mom yelled at me, “Go write a book.”

So I did.

The first one was longhand in a notebook (I’ve still got it, somewhere). After my parents realized writing was occupying my time, my Dad brought me a Smith Corona typewriter to use, and I spent every minute I had pecking away to get the voices out of my head. He worked in a typewriter repair store at the time, so it wasn’t long before I got an electric one for Christmas. And I pecked away even faster.

I came up with an idea for a story when I was 15 that has occupied my mind for the past 37 years. It started as a simple fantasy, then turned into a horror and much later into a science fiction story. But the story was always pretty much the same, just the time and place changed.

I finally got the first part of it out of my head and into my hands a week ago. I’ve been reading it this week as a reader rather than a writer or editor. It’s not as perfect as I had hoped, but I’m satisfied that at least those voices aren’t screaming in my brain.

Looking back on it, I wonder if my Mom told me, all those years ago, “Go write a book” as reward, or punishment. Either way, thank you Mom.

That is all.

Welcome to The Rages

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Finally! Out of my head and into my hands.

Three more books in the next 20 months and I can finally let my mind slip blissfully into insanity.

My Book is Starting to Scare Me

Castaway (The Rages #1)

The idea behind The Rages and the Book of the Shepherds has been bouncing around in my head for decades. I blame it primarily for my unstable mental condition. But now it’s starting to scare me a little bit. Especially when I see stories like the one on MSN, linked below. In The Rages, Right to Income is a basic right of life and everyone gets a paycheck just for being a citizen. I thought it was a little far-fetched when I first thought it up, but I figured it’s science fiction, let’s add it to the mix and see what comes out in the plot. Now I’m starting to feel a little prophetic, and a lot worried for our future. The Seven Realms of Man is great to write about, but I’m not sure I want my children living there.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/markets/elon-musk-robots-will-take-your-jobs-government-will-have-to-pay-your-wage/ar-AAjUyJK?li=BBnbfcL