No shovel required

Growing up in South Florida I never entertained the possibility of snow on Christmas Day. It just didn’t happen. Every Christmas I remember was accompanied by the gentle hum of our central air conditioner turning on at some point. That’s just the way Florida winters were. I do remember the occasional cold night. My mother would cover me with an extra blanket and turn on the heater. “Stay warm,” she would say. “It’s supposed to get down to forty tonight.”

So this past Christmas Eve when the streets were clear and the grass was visible, I didn’t really notice that it hadn’t snowed yet this year. The forty degree heat wave felt just like Christmas to me. My oldest son thought differently though. His lone Facebook post on Christmas Eve read, “lost all hope of having snow on christmas :(“. This, of course, allowed me to spring into one of my favorite pastimes: a rousing rendition of, “Why, when I was your age…”

He was legitimately upset and didn’t find my game very amusing. I tried to introduce some levity to help ease his mood. I suggested we get a wood chipper and blow hard cheese on the front yard like they did in “Merry Christmas, Drake & Josh” but he didn’t like that idea. I also suggested we move Christmas back a month when our chances of snow would be increased, but of course that would mean a delay in presents so that idea flopped too. The only thing we could do would be to celebrate Christmas without snow, which of course we did.

All in all, it was a good Christmas – even without the snow. The kids got what they wanted with a few extra surprises thrown in and we had family and friends drop in throughout the day.

This evening, I took my son out to do some clothes shopping with some of his Christmas money. School starts back tomorrow and he needed some long sleeve shirts. As we were walking from the mall to our car, snow started falling. “There’s your Christmas snow,” I said.

“It’s no fun when the first snow is after Christmas,” he replied.

“So was it a good Christmas anyway?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he replied. “I guess so.”

That’s about as deep as a young teenager gets, so I took it as a good sign. When we got home I jumped onto Facebook to see what was new. I was greeted with this recent status update: “snow isnt any good if its like a week AFTER christmas >:(”

Listen, kid, when I  was your age…

I resolve not to resolve

Everybody talks about the ups and downs of New Year’s resolutions, but comments are rarely  made without somebody talking about how they’re frequently broken. One of my favorite New Year’s quotes is by Mark Twain:

“New Year’s Day: Now is the accepted time to make your regular annual good resolutions. Next week you can begin paving hell with them as usual.”

I can’t count the number of times I’ve begun a New Year with resolutions to lose weight, clean up after myself regularly, finish that book I started a hundred times, or just be a “better person” (how vague is that one?). Time and experience have shown me that no matter what kind of New Year’s resolution I set I’m going to break it. I’m still overweight, I still leave piles of paperwork laying around, and I currently have bookmarks in no fewer than three books. The “better person” resolution? Dunno. My wife hasn’t left me yet and my kids still give me hugs, so I guess I’m doing ok there. Although that reminds me of another quote by one of my favorite dead people, Ben Franklin:

“Be always at war with your vices, at peace with your neighbors, and let each new year find you a better man.”

I can probably handle that one. But since I hit forty this past year I should probably throw in this quote by André Gide as well:

“But can one still make resolutions when one is over forty? I live according to twenty-year-old habits.”

So anyway, I think I’ve decided not to make any resolutions for the new year. I’ll just stick with my process of trying to be a better person. But this year I’m going to do it a little bit differently. Instead of trying to eliminate my flaws I think I’m going to follow the advice of Ellen Goodman:

“We spend January 1 walking through our lives, room by room, drawing up a list of work to be done, cracks to be patched. Maybe this year, to balance the list, we ought to walk through the rooms of our lives… not looking for flaws, but for potential.”

May 2012 be the year of recognized potential for us all.

Happy New Year

This post has no title. (Ok. I guess it does NOW, but… Oh never mind.)

The most challenging part about being a creative individual isn’t knowing what to create, but rather finding the time to create. This blog was originally intended as a way for me to keep writing, but it has obviously fallen by the wayside.

For the past few months I’ve been focusing much of my time on running my design business. I’ve got a family to feed. No, writing is not my “main thing.” I’m not even sure I would want it to be. But it is a big thing for me.

So what’s the point of this blog post?

Nothing, really. It had just been too long since I had posted something and I figured I probably should.

By the way, I hope to get back to finishing up both of my book projects soon. “Eileen” is (for the most part) complete. And the Psychic Joker series is still somewhere on my hard drive – the next installment also mostly complete. I just have to force a few hours into my week to actually move them from the “Mostly Complete” column into the “Complete” column.

Gateway hits Amazon

Wow. That title could really be read wrong, couldn’t it?

Oh well. I’m not changing it now. If it brought you to this blog post then it’ll bring others too.

Anyway, it’s official. I’ve written a book and self-published it. My mother is proud of me. I even have proof in the form of the Facebook comments and the fact that she sent me a copy of the receipt when she purchased her own copy. I’m pretty sure she was my first customer too.

So here’s your chance to be just as awesome as my mom and buy a copy of “Gateway”. It’s inexpensive, and I’ve been told (even by people who don’t HAVE to be nice) that it’s a pretty good read.

If you don’t love it, please let me know. As nice as it is to get compliments, constructive criticism is really the only thing that makes any of us better – right?

Oh yeah – the link: 

It’s in the Amazon Kindle store, but you don’t need a Kindle to read it. There’s a Kindle App for PC and Mac, plus any smartphone or tablet.

So… This was the official announcement. Sorry there wasn’t a band playing or free cookies.

I should probably put a picture or something here now. Call it a teaser for Book Two. I should have that one ready within a few weeks.

Gateway – Book One in The Psychic Joker Series

Well, it’s official.

As of about ten minutes ago, I have completed my first book. It’s a novella of just over 20,000 words that will be the first in a series of novellas about the The Psychic Joker.  I’ll be spending the next few days learning how to convert it into a solid e-book format and should have it on the Amazon Kindle store shortly thereafter.

The process took a little longer than expected. Although the story was completed about six months ago, I didn’t want to rush directly into publication. I wanted to make sure the story was solid and was readable. I have to extend a very special thank you to my wife, Lisa, for her invaluable encouragement, input, patience, and editing skills. Without her the idea would still be a story rattling around in my head.

As a bit of a teaser, I’ll include an excerpt at the end of this post. The picture you see here is what I’ve come up with for a front cover. I hope you enjoy the teaser, and I hope you buy a copy of the book. It won’t be expensive, I promise.


Chapter 2 (excerpt)

Inside the envelope was what at first appeared to be a blank sheet of paper. But as I held it in my hands, strange writings and symbols began to materialize on the page. I first thought I saw some Egyptian hieroglyphs. Then they began to melt away only to be replaced by what appeared to be Chinese. After a brief moment, the Chinese characters melted into what I believe was some form of cuneiform. Cuneiform became Arabic. Arabic became Hebrew. Hebrew became Cyrillic. And then the Cyrillic turned into the more familiar Roman alphabet. As I began to focus on what I believed to be Latin, it quickly became German and then English. I waited for a moment or two before I realized that the show was over.

Rather than read what was printed on the page I folded the paper again, placed it back into the envelope, and put the envelope back into my pocket. I then retrieved the envelope, re-opened it, and expected to see the strange metamorphosis again. Nothing happened. The words on the page were frozen in plain English. A little upset that the magic didn’t repeat itself, I began to read.

Dear sir,

Please accept this note as my most sincere appreciation for your honesty. I understand the temptation to keep my book must have been very great as it is likely worth a large sum of money. Please know that this book means more to me than any amount of money. The fact that you willingly returned it shows that you have a great deal of integrity and that integrity will be rewarded.

Tomorrow morning at nine o’clock sharp, please meet me at the exact location where you are sitting right now. Do not bring anything except yourself – no recording devices, no telephone or communication device of any kind, and no paper or writing implements. Do not tell any one about this note or our meeting tomorrow. Wear unassuming clothing – no jewelry, no watch, not even a ring.

If you are unable to keep this appointment I will hold no ill will against you and you will not hear from me again. I am looking for somebody very specific and I believe you are the person for whom I have been searching.

Until then–

There was no signature. I reread the note at least a dozen times. I looked at the back of the page expecting to find some sort of elaborate device that could make it do the crazy “dance of languages” it had done when I first opened it, but it was just blank paper. I didn’t know what to think. Who wrote this note? Who was this “somebody very specific” the writer was hoping to find? Surely it couldn’t have been me. I was just some amateur magician who happened to be unemployed trying to land a job – or perform at a kid’s birthday party for some extra cash. The strange coincidences that had brought me here were about as random as they could be. And how would he know where I would open the note? How could any of this be happening?

The crazy life of a “creative”.

I can’t believe it’s been three and a half months since I last posted in this blog. I know I don’t have a large number of followers, but I also know that there are at least a few of you out there. If your life has been half as busy as mine, then you probably understand why I’ve been cyber-silent for so long.

One challenge I face as a creative person (or just “a creative” as I like to refer to myself) is that my creativity doesn’t stop (or even begin) with writing. For as long as I can remember I’ve been a musician, an actor, a designer (more on that in a bit), a computer programmer, and anything else that brings physical form to unique ideas. I like this aspect of myself, but it’s hard to focus sometimes because my mind is always at work. My wife, Lisa, frequently tells me that I have the uncanny (and sometimes annoying) ability to shut the rest of the world out when I’m creating. I’ve burned dinners, ignored children, and missed countless other things going on around me because I was caught in a creative groove. I’m thankful Lisa is understanding of me when I go into these trances. A lesser woman would have left me by now. I’m sure she’s probably considered it more than once but she’s too much of a lady to have told me so, and I thank God daily for her. There’s a reason creative people throughout history have had their marriages end when they never realized anything was wrong. One example I think of is the story of Georges Seurat that Sondheim tells us in the musical “Sunday In The Park With George”. This historically inaccurate George frequently ignores his mistress, Dot, in favor of his art. He would rather “finish the hat” than take Dot to the follies as he had promised. My favorite quote: “I am not hiding behind my canvas. I am living in it.” There is no other line in that play with which I can identify better.

Anyway, I’m rambling. Sorry about that.

So… What creative project have I been hiding behind for the past three plus months? I’ve started my own freelance design company. The decision to do it wasn’t really that difficult. About ten years ago, Lisa and I ran a small web design company for about a year. Unfortunately, our lack of business skills saw to the rapid decline of that company. I thought I knew how to run a business since I had spent years in retail management, but I quickly learned how wrong I was and found myself back in the world of the j-o-b. But I became hooked on design at that point. With guidance from countless books, web courses, and the never ending kindness of my brother (who has been a very successful graphic designer in Oregon for some time) I decided to open shop on my own. Over the past few years I have built up quite a portfolio from work I had been doing pro bono for local non-profits. I also had done some in-house design work for a radio station I had worked for during the interim years. I learned business skills – especially proper client relations – and figured there was no time like the present. My company, ThirdSide, is now up and running.

So… What does that mean for my writing? Well, aside from the brief hiatus I took to set up my business, hopefully not a thing. I plan to get back into the swing of things immediately – beginning with this blog post. “Eileen” is almost complete. I only have about three more chapters to write. I may post another chapter here, but I really would like to publish it as an ebook. Don’t worry. It’ll be inexpensive.

I have also completed the first in a series of short stories called “The Psychic Joker Series”. Lisa is in the process of editing it right now. This series originally started as a short story to serve as a back story for a business I had started with Lisa and another friend. The business is primarily an entertainment business that focuses on magicians as well as other forms of rare and unique entertainment. We have a long-term goal of opening a themed café/theater and decided a back story would be a good idea. Anyway, the original idea was to have a 15,000-20,000 word short story. But the universe in which the protagonist lives grew beyond 20,000 words very quickly. It wasn’t until I had reached that number (actually, it was well beyond 20,000) that I realized that I had begun an extensive novel that would work better as a series of short stories.

So within the next week, I hope to announce the release of “Gateway – Book One in The Psychic Joker Series”. I am just over halfway done with Book Two, and have concepts for Three and Four. I’d like to release these every other month or so until I get sick of writing them. I don’t see stopping anytime in the foreseeable future though. I’m really starting to love the characters and they have some very unique ways about them.

Anyway, that about sums it up for now. If you’d like to see some websites about my projects, just visit and (Yes, that’s “.co”, not “.com”).

See ya real soon!

Science Fiction Viral Theater

So here’s my random thought for the day:

What makes something go viral? OK. Bad question, I know. Every marketer, musician, and 14-year old video editor want to know the same thing. So here’s a better question:

Why does BAD stuff go viral more than good stuff?

Case in point: The Rocky Horror Picture Show. I’m sure many of you have heard of it. If you haven’t, you’ve been living under a Transylvanian castle. (And you might want to jump over to Wikipedia to get caught up.) At its core Rocky Horror is a really bad movie. I mean REALLY BAAAAD. If you don’t believe me, try watching it sometime and judge it based on its cinematic merit alone. The acting is over-the-top (even with Susan Sarandon and Tim Curry in the lead), the story line would play out better in a cheap novel, and don’t get me started on the sets… Actually the sets are really good. And the music’s pretty good too. But still, the movie sucks.

I’m sure many of you will argue that the movie is supposed to be bad, and I couldn’t agree more. It was originally written as a stage musical designed to parody science fiction B-movies. In 1975 some producer (actually it was Lou Adler of Cheech & Chong fame) decided to bring it to the silver screen. Much to everybody’s surprise it flopped.

So let’s fast forward to 2011. Here we are 36 years later and Rocky Horror is the longest running movie in history. With a budget of $1.2 million, it’s made that back over 100 times (115 times, actually). And it’s all because it went viral.

So this brings me back to my original question: Why?

I’m using Rocky Horror as a viral example for one very good reason. It existed before the words “viral marketing” became household words. There was no internet. Word of mouth was the only way it got around, and for it to gain word of mouth people had to like it (or at least like the experience of seeing it). So here’s the reason bad stuff goes viral (IMHO): People actually like seeing bad stuff, but they LOVE bad stuff when they can share it and laugh at it together.

I mean think about it. Trolololololo? Sucks. But if you share it with a friend it’s a party on a screen. Numa Numa? Ditto. And who can forget this gem. That last one came out over twenty years ago but didn’t become viral until recently. Maybe it just hadn’t gotten bad yet.

So to be viral, it has to be worth sharing somehow. I know it’s a stupid answer, but I think about it every time I write.

By the way, if you’re in Central Illinois and you’re interested in seeing The Rocky Horror Picture Show as it was meant to be seen (with all your friends) then click here —> How To Be an Unconventional Conventionalist

Everything is permanent until it’s temporary.

I’m a Twit. I admit it. I originally signed up for the popular microblogging site to blast out various opinions without having to defend my ideas on my Facebook wall. But since then, Twitter has become my primary news source. I receive tweets from favorite blogs (Gizmodo, Disney World) as well as updates from various news sources. I don’t remember the last time I got news from a newspaper, television, or radio. I don’t even own a radio except for the one in my car. (Ironic, considering my last job was radio advertising sales.)

This morning I awoke to a stream of constant Twitter alerts coming through my phone. The micro-urban community of Champaign-Urbana had a fire in one of its most popular locations: the 600 block of East Green Street. Newsmakers and ordinary citizens alike were tweeting every detail from scanner chatter to eyewitness testimony. When the smoke had finally cleared just after 10:00 and people were starting to get on with their mornings, we began to get a real idea of what had been lost. The business located on the ground floor where the fire had started, a restaurant called Zorba’s, had been in its location for almost forty years. The current owner started working there almost thirty years ago and bought the business in 1997. Zorba’s neighbors – another restaurant called Mia Za’s and a clothing boutique named Pitaya – will probably not be able to reopen before the end of the school year, and some have doubts if they will open before the fall semester. Other nearby businesses have heavy smoke and water damage. Parts of each of these buildings will have to be demolished. We have lost a little bit of what many thought was permanent.

Hundreds of thousands of University of Illinois alumni have walked the 600 block of East Green Street since it was first built ninety years ago. The idea of these buildings being gone has stirred up quite a bit of emotion for many. I wonder if the people who built those buildings ever thought about how their creations would someday cease to stand.

This brings me to the point of my post. Permanent is not permanent. Buildings are temporary. Civilizations are temporary. Life is temporary. Some say memories are permanent, but original memories die with their hosts. Some say love is permanent. I hate to disagree with such a romantic idea, but I have seen love die. It is human to try to push our temporary lives into permanence, so when we see change we are reminded of our own temporary existence and we naturally resist it.

Many of us try to leave our marks on the world in the short time we are here. I think about this when I write. When I finish writing this and click the “publish” button I would like to think that I am making my thoughts permanent, but I know one day this blog will go away. In fact, you may be the last person to ever read it.

I have stopped trying to worry about permanence. I have started to try and enjoy everything for what it is in that moment in time. Because once this world is gone, it won’t make a bit of difference whether or not something I did was permanent. The only thing that matters is if it was appreciated before it became temporary.

June, 1971

The moment around an instant

Do you ever take time and look at old family pictures? I don’t mean just casually glance through them, I mean really look at them.

To me, still photographs are just as engaging to the imagination as a good book or short story. They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but what about the thousands of words that weren’t captured in the the seconds before and after the picture? I like to imagine that the moments that were photographed were special moments during special events. What is the event? What is the story behind the moment?

Recently, my mother has been sharing old family pictures with family and friends on her Facebook page. It’s been nice to relive some of the memories associated with them. The pictures that really grabbed my attention were ones of my grandfather from the 1970s. There are two things I remember very vividly about him: his love of chess and the cigarette that was perpetually connected to his hand. I was too young to really remember much else. I don’t remember his politics. I don’t remember his religion. I don’t even really remember his personality – except he was always smiling when he saw me. I don’t know if he was a happy person or not, but he always seemed happy to me.

As I was looking through some of these old family pictures I found myself imagining what was happening immediately before and after the picture was taken. I found myself creating stories around the pictures. There’s my grandfather. There’s my grandmother. There are some other people whose faces I remember, but whose names I do not. What were they all doing before somebody pulled out their Kodak Instamatic and said, “Say cheese!” to a group of people? In some of the pictures you can see the Florida sun creating harsh shadows. Was the sun in their eyes? How hot or humid was the air that afternoon? Was there a deep conversation interrupted to take a picture? And once the shutter clicked what did everybody do? Did somebody say, “Oh, could I get a copy of that?” or did they just carry on with their day and forget the picture had ever been taken? And what about the photographer – the one member of the group who was left out of the picture?

Take some time to browse through your old family pictures. In them, there are thousands of stories waiting to be told. It’s up to us to provide the stories associated with them – or create new stories ourselves.

June, 1971