When I published my first book, I started sharing pictures of the cover when it was still in the theoretical stage, long before the final product was realized. I had never heard of the concept of a Cover Reveal. Let's face it, when I put that first book out, I hadn't heard of a lot of things. Over the last two years, one of the things I have learned is how important that cover really is. It does a lot of the heavy lifting for a book. It has to be appealing in a thumbprint size as well as full-size, it has to accurately convey the genre and tone of the book and ideally, it has to make a reader think "I'm interested in that story." All without the benefit of the story itself. That's why I feel so blessed to work with Linda Boulanger, who has now created the covers for all six of my books and stories, including this one:
First, I want to tell you that this cover is a little bit of a departure for the type of story it is. Second Chance Valentines is a love story. The conventional wisdom is, when you make a cover for a love story, you should see the couple front and center. In both Second Chance Christmas and now Second Chance Valentines, there are lovely, evocative images, but no impassioned lovers in sight. That was my decision. Unless you don't like it, then it was all on Linda. I kid, I kid. It was all me. When Linda showed me this gorgeous bridge, I didn't want to distract from it in any way. Plus, it has the benefit of being metaphorical, as I think of this story as a bridge between their Christmas Miracle and the relationship they will ultimately have. In any case, I enjoy looking at it, and I hope you do as well. Writing Second Chance Valentines itself was a little bit of a gamble. First, it is a short story, which conventional wisdom says doesn't sell well. Also, it is a "sweet" romance, which means that there's no sex or erotic content. Finally, it's pretty old-fashioned, because that's what I set out to write. Writing stories where few things are left to the imagination is what is trendy right now, but I just don't have that in me. A blogger recently said that I didn't write Romance stories, but that I wrote "Love Stories." I loved that, because that's exactly what I am going for. I want to explore that ineffable feeling of falling into and being in, love. In any case, Second Chance Valentines, the second story in the Second Chance Love series, is out and available on Amazon and can be found here. Both it and the first story are only .99. Thanks to Dawn Adele (who helped me come up with the plot) J.K. Kelley, my editor (who always makes my writing so much better than I ever could on my own) and my beta readers that tell me when I'm getting things right and wrong, I think it's a pretty good story. I hope you'l enjoy it.
I've had a life-long love affair with short stories. As a young reader, Jack London, Mark Twain, O. Henry, Brett Harte, Edgar Allan Poe, and Ambrose Bierce rocked my fragile little mind. When I was ten or eleven, it seemed intimidating to pick up a "big person's book," but short stories were different - more accessible. Some of those stories I read as a child and young man have stayed with me to this day. O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi haunts me with the perfection of its plot and moving parts. Mark Twain's The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg and Conrad Aiken's Silent Snow, Secret Snow constantly resurface in my brain. I don't know if you've ever heard of that last one, but its portrayal of a young boy sinking into insanity one day at a time is unforgettable. As I got older, I naturally turned to longer works, but I never lost my love of the story that could be read over the course of a single lunch hour. Every year, I looked forward to the Science Fiction anthologies that would deliver twenty or more short stories to me all at once. For a time, it felt to like Stephen King was keeping the short fiction form alive all by himself. His collection of four novellas called Different Seasons is simply brilliant, with three stories that were made into excellent movies: The Body (which became the film Stand by Me) Apt Pupil, and Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption (which became the film The Shawshank Redemption.) In fact, a story that King wrote (Yeah, We've Got a Hell of a Band) was the inspiration for the full-length novel I'm currently writing - Rock 'n Roll Heaven. I'm thinking about short stories today because I've just recently written and released two short stories of my own - Second Chance Christmas and Christmas Town. After writing these two very different stories, I am beginning to understand why the masters of the form kept returning to it again and again. There is something freeing about writing a short story. When I get an idea for a book-length project, I had better really love that idea, because I am going to be living with it for a few quite a while. With a short story, my commitment isn't nearly as great, (I can normally write a short story in three days or so) but I am still able to fully explore a single idea. For instance, in Christmas Town, I had the concept of an outwardly-successful man who has just made an exceptionally difficult decision - in this case it is to leave his children in Seattle and accept a huge promotion in Boston. I wanted to separate this man from his normal surroundings to give him time to reflect. If I had tried to take this idea and write it as a novel or novella, I would have had to back up from the starting point I chose and written 10,000 or so words that filled in his background and how he got to that point. With a short story, I was able to just throw him right in and explore the dilemma I was interested in. Second Chance Christmas highlighted the opposite side of that coin. When I was done with that story, I realized I had more I wanted to say about Steve and Lizzie, the two lovers who aren't reunited until the last few paragraphs of the story. The beautiful thing is, I can explore more of their story now with more short slices of their life.Their journey will unfold over a series of four more short stories over the next twelve months. There are a million changes happening in the publishing industry right now. Barnes and Noble, the last large chain of bookstores, is tottering precipitously. Traditional publishing houses and literary agents, the gatekeepers of the industry for many decades, are waning in influence. Self publishing has thrown those gates wide open, for better or worse. One of the best changes, though, is that short fiction is popular and viable once again, not just in a few literary magazines, but in the open marketplace. Have you hugged a short story today?
Journey back with me, if you will, to a long ago time... It was December of 1976. Not only was there no internet at that time, there were no computers in our high school. Those wouldn't arrive until several years after I graduated. In fact, it had stirred up quite a bit of excitement when we had gotten in a few IBM Selectrics for Ms. Gehrman's typing class. (By the way, Ms. Gehrman would be proud - my fingers still rest proudly on the home row.) With no Facebook or texting or Tweeting to do, we had to find other ways to amuse ourselves.
On one special December day, we amused ourselves with Wall Ball.
Now, if you go to Google or Wikipedia and look up "wall ball," you will find articles about a playground game that incorporates a rubber ball and, logically enough, a wall. The dearth of information about wall ball circa Mossyrock in 1976 just goes to show how incomplete those sources of information can be. (Not really.)
Here's how The Great Wall Ball Episode of 1976 came to pass.
My best friends were Harold Crook and Jerry Weible. Harold had been one of my best friends since Kindergarten and Jerry since third grade, when he moved to Mossyrock. I don't want to say we were nerdy boys, but if Mossyrock had an AV Club, we would have been officers. As it was, we were founding members of The Science Club, The French Club and we were all in Drama. If that doesn't establish our nerd bonafides, nothing will.
On the last day before school let out for Christmas vacation, Harold and I were supposed to be working on putting out an issue of The Vintage Viking Newspaper. Harold and I were Co-Editors and Jerry was the Art Director for the paper. I hope you caught the key word in that previous sentence: supposed.
With Christmas vacation looming, a great ennui overtook us and we couldn't muster up the energy to begin work on writing or editing the paper. In fact, we spent the initial part of the morning in a great Mossyrock tradition: heater sitting. Mossyrock High school classrooms were heated by large radiators with blowers that sat against the windows. It was a long-held tradition to sit right on top of the blowers, sucking up as much heat as you could until just before you received an actual first degree burn. Then you would hop up suddenly, rubbing your backside for all you were worth and yelling "Ow, Ow, Ow!" until you sat back down on the blower again. I told you: we had to amuse ourselves.
At some point in the morning, though, I walked by Harold with a crumpled piece of paper in my hand and, for reasons that will never be known, attempted to throw it past his head. He ducked, swatted it down and said something witty like "Ha! In your face In-mung!" (In-mung was my derogatory nickname among my friends. I felt blessed to have received one so benign.)
Of course, I had to retrieve the piece of paper and try and throw it by him again. And again. And again. It didn't take long before we had appropriated Mr. Bartee's tape dispenser and we were wrapping tape around pieces of paper to weigh them down a little and make them fly in interesting ways. Soon after that, we marked off a section of blackboard that was our goal, a pitch-line for throwing and rules for pitching and defending. In short, in about ten minutes, we created a game.
For the rest of the day, we were consumed by playing wall ball. Aside from a break for lunch, I remember that we stayed in that room playing all day, until early release at 1:00. Over time, Jerry rolled in and played a few games with us as well, but as he was not there for the creation, he didn't seem to share our all-consuming need to master the intricacies of wall ball.
At the beginning of that day, we believed that day would last forever, as final days before vacations often do. Instead, it had flown by in a series of whoops, hollers and curving paper balls. Just a few minutes before 1:00, Harold and I put the room back in order and caught our buses for home.
A few weeks later, when we came back to our classroom, I found the remainders of the game - a tape-wrapped "ball" and a piece of paper with our scores on it. The fever had passed, though. We threw everything in the garbage and never played wall ball again.
To everything, there is a season, even something as rad and beautiful as wall ball.
A few weeks ago, I realized I wasn't going to have anything new to release to my readers in December. Initially, I had thought I would have my next full-length book, Rock 'n Roll Heaven ready to go in December, but delays caused by investigating the realities of using real people in a fictional book plus a complete change in certain aspects of the story I wanted to tell pushed that book out to late January or early February. That left my release schedule barren for the holidays, and that just didn't seem right. Since it was almost Thanksgiving when I realized this, I knew I would only have time to do a short story. Unfortunately, I didn't have any "Holiday Short Story" ideas ready to be written. So, I did what my sister and mentor Terri, always taught me: Use the other person's brain. (This was her #1 business management rule, and it has served me well throughout my life.) With that in mind, I went to my FB page, where I hang out with friends and readers at least a little bit every day. I asked them to give me some plot ideas they would like to see in a Christmas story. Man, did I get ideas! They ranged from "Write about your first Christmas back with Dawn" to "A modern day version of Gift of the Magi to "I love stories that have a scene that happens on a Christmas tree lot." I took about four or five of these basic plot points, threw them all in the blender that passes for my brain and went to work. About three days later, I had the story. There were echoes of my own story of loss (the couple in the story had been separated for 20 years) but there was also a tip of the hat to O. Henry's Gift of the Magi and the pivotal scene in the story was indeed set in a Christmas tree lot. I even got the title, Second Chance Christmas from one of my readers. There are so many things I love about being independently published, and this story exemplifies a lot of them. If I'd had this idea even fifteen years ago, there's not much I could have done with it. There was virtually no market for short stories, outside of magazines, so my little story would have been back-burnered until Christmas of 2014, at best. Now, since I am my own publisher, I can think of a story one day, write it the next and publish it the third. We self-publishers are nothing if not nimble! The story of Second Chance Christmas didn't end there, though. When I sent it off to my friend and editor J.K. Kelley to work his magic on it, he had reservations about the story, and rightfully so. What I had seen as "echoes" of my own story with Dawn, he saw as derivative. He also noted way-too-many similarities between Steve Larson, one of my two main characters, and myself. He was right. I had subconsciously projected myself into the story and made Steve too much like myself. Thankfully, with another few days and few rounds of brainstorming and editing, we got the manuscript whipped into a shape I could be proud to release. Then came the cover. As always, I used Linda Boulanger to design my cover. In this case, I told her that a key scene would be in a tree lot and that I wanted it to be "Christmas-y." Less than 24 hours later, she came back with this: I loved it. There was something sweet, innocent and evocative about the cover. Since that is exactly the type of story I had set out to write, I accepted it just as it was. And so, in just two weeks, I solicited ideas from my readers, wrote a story, re-thought and re-wrote that story and found a perfect cover. This story is very much a group effort and I wanted to give all credit where it is due. I had so much fun tackling this project that I have decided to try and squeeze in one more short story before Christmas. As of this moment, it is about half written. It will be called Christmas Town and it is a cross between a Christmas story and a Twilight Zone episode. It's one of those stories that started out as one thing and then took a right turn about halfway through and is going in a completely different direction than what I had planned. I love it when that happens - when a story tells me what it wants to be. I hope to have it out the week before Christmas. If you'd like to know when Christmas Town, or any of my books or stories are coming out, you can subscribe to my New Release Mailing List by clicking here. For signing up for the newsletter, you will always get advance notice when I publish something. Of course, I will never sell you name and I won't spam you with a lot of notices - so far this year I've sent a grand total of two emails to my mailing list.
When I was young, I was much more impressed with myself than I am today. It's possible I've gotten dumber over the decades and I am lucky enough to recognize it, or else I was never as smart as I once thought I was and I've finally come to grips with that. Either way, the golden glow of competency that I once believed I had has faded. This does not make me sad in any way.
During these passing years, however, I have learned a couple of things. Maybe the most important thing is that un-asked for advice is almost always ignored. This comes in helpful with spouses, children, friends, co-workers, really. almost everyone! Giving someone advice that they didn't ask for is like pouring water on a man dying of thirst who has their mouth sewn shut. It might be the thing that is needed, but if they're not ready for it, it just annoys and frustrates everyone concerned. So, over the years, I have gotten better at not giving unwanted advice. Again, this has marked an improvement in my own life.
Today, I am going to go against this personal rule and offer some advice that you did not ask for and may very well not need. If you feel that is the case, let me know and I'll refund you everything you paid to sign up for this blog. (Hint: I don't charge anything.)
As i sit here at my keyboard with way more years behind me than will be in front of me, this is what I'd like to tell you:
Be kind when you're supposed to, be kind when you're not supposed to. Feel free to be kind while the world watches, but doing it when no one else is watching feels best. I believe kindness makes you feel it best when you do it for someone or something that can't possibly repay you in any way.
Kindness almost always costs you nothing and I believe you'll get better ROI (Return on Investment) from kindness than you will from anything else in your life.
We all have many opportunities to be kind every day. The more we keep our eyes open for opportunities to be kind, the more those opportunities will arise.
I'm not going to list all the ways I try to be kind every day because those are my ways. You need to find your own way. If you tell yourself every morning "Today, I will look for ways to practice kindness," believe me, they'll show up. Besides, if I tell you about my ways, it kind of defeats the whole "doing it while the world isn't watching" thing.
Beware your own beliefs and opinions.
You feel strongly about some things. They might be religious, or political, or just personal viewpoints. Good for you! (I don't mean that sarcastically, in case it came across like that. I really mean it. Good for you.) It's good to have core values and strong beliefs.
But, here's the thing: Other people who are just as intelligent, well-meaning and thoughtful as you hold a belief that is exactly the opposite of yours. That is because, no matter how we try to fool ourselves otherwise, there is no one right answer. And that's okay. It's great, even. I'd like to say that these differences can make for great, spirited discussion, but anyone who's been on Facebook or the internet in general knows that's probably not the case.
So here's my advice: Celebrate your similarities and allow your differences with people. We all have more in common with each other than we'd often like to admit, but we spend so much time focusing on those smaller areas where we differ. I have strong beliefs and opinions on a lot of issues: gay marriage, religion, immigration policies, etc. I don't talk about those things with people because I've learned that I'm not going to change someone's mind. And, the fact that some of my best friends hold opinions that run completely counter to me doesn't impact me in any way. It's like if I went to McDonalds and ordered a Big Mac and got upset if the lady behind me ordered a Quarter Pounder instead. The fact that she believes that is a better sandwich doesn't invalidate my own sandwich in any way.
Also, it's possible, if you are an aware, growing human being that those opinions will change over time. Mine certainly have, and they likely will as long as I am breathing. I'd hate to belittle one of my friends for holding an opinion and then eventually realize I agreed with them.
I know that's not much, but that's what I've learned in my five decades plus on Earth. Be kind to each other. Allow others to have opinions you do not share. It's simple advice, and I promise it's worth every penny you paid for it.
I dropped my five year old granddaughter off at Kindergarten today. As we got out of the car and walked toward her classroom, she unself-consciously reached up and held my hand. She talked and skipped the whole way into the school, telling me about a birthday party she's been invited to and the work they were doing with leaves in her classroom. Very important stuff to her, of course, and very important to me to have a chance to hear it. After I hugged her and walked out the door, I thought about how good it is to be so innocent and happy, but also how much her life is out of her own control. My daughter and she had been staying with me these past few months, but now my daughter has found an apartment in a town 35 miles away. Soon, my granddaughter will be going to school in a new town. I will miss these early morning walks to the classroom and I know, at first, she will miss this school and the friends she has made. Soon, though, there will be new friends and new birthday parties to be invited to, and her months at this little school will fade into memory. At first, I thought it was a little sad to be so young and have so much of your life controlled by other people, making decisions for you that impact your life when you have so little control yourself. I caught myself almost immediately, though, and flashed back to a conversation I had with a mental health professional about five years ago. In the course of conversation, I had told her that I was an ACOA - an Adult Child of Alcoholic parents, but that I had stopped the cycle of alcohol abuse. I was in my mid-forties at the time and had never taken a drink, which was a direct result of being raised in a household where alcohol had caused a lot of negative things to happen. I thought I was in control. She interrupted my happy, in-control thought process with one question: "Oh, when did you do the work?" An innocent question which I answered "Huh? What work?" "Well, the work that's necessary to deal with being an ACOA. There are issues other than continuing the alcohol abuse cycle that come from growing up in that situation." Uh-huh. Okay. "I've never done any work at all," I admitted. She reached into her purse and gave me a pamphlet that had all the meeting times and places of the Al-Anon meetings in the area. I was a little floored. I was proud of the fact that I had never had a drink or done any type of drug - that I had broken the cycle of addiction that had so greatly impacted the early part of my life. I thought I had that issue whipped, and here she was, handing me a list of Al-Anon meetings. I carried that pamphlet around for a while, but eventually my curiosity got the better of me and I attended a meeting. At my first meeting, I heard a lot of stories that sounded very familiar to me, true stories shared by people who were dealing with what I had dealt with - a terrible feeling of a lack of control. When you are a child in a household that is fueled by alcohol, control is in short supply for everyone. Many of us who grew up in that environment make up for that big time by trying to over-control everything in our adult life. Symptoms of that can even include things like my own refusal to drink, but it extends much farther. Without conscious thought, most of us attempt to control what our friends and loved ones think. We do that in various ways - by being a martyr, by ruling with an iron fist, by being passive-aggressive, but in the end it comes down to only one thing: The need for control. It took time. Years, in fact, but eventually I mostly learned to let go of that need for controlling other people. It's obviously a fool's errand any way. None of us really can control the thoughts and feelings of another person, but many of us are willing to die trying. I say "mostly" because it is easy to slip back into those old habits if you're not vigilant, but I am happy to say that they slip further and further behind in my rear view mirror every day. Part of it is being lucky to have found Dawn, who never hesitates to call me on this behaviour. Still, even with the love and support of Dawn, I need to give credit where it is due: to myself, for being willing to do the work. Are any of us ever in control? Personally, I don't think so. If you do, ask someone who has worked for the same company for twenty years that just got laid off. Or, the man or woman whose spouse just left them after a long marriage. Or worse, someone whose life has just been rocked by a medical diagnosis no one ever wants to receive. All those situations quickly lead us to realize just how little control we have in our lives. There is freedom in that, though. Ralph Ellison wrote, in The Invisible Man, "Life is to be lived, not controlled." I agree with that. In letting loose of the pathological need for control, there is freedom. Freedom to take what life throws at us and survive. Freedom to simply, be. Like its sister organization, Alcoholics Anonymous, Al-Anon lives by the Serenity Prayer: "God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference." Growing up in the household I did, I read that saying almost every day of my life. It wasn't until I was much older that it finally had real meaning in my life. If you suffer with issues of a need to control things in your environment, or if you just need someone to talk to, the Al-Anon website is here. It will tell you the time and place of meetings in your area. I hope you will take this blog post in the spirit of the meetings I attended: Take what you can use, leave all the rest.Shawn
Dawn and I celebrated our third anniversary by travelling to Maui. I've never before attempted to be a travel writer, but I see the appeal - travel to exotic locations and write what you think about them. Not a bad racket. So, in the interest of spreading my wings a bit, I'll share a few observations about our trip. One thing we did correctly was plan our trip well in advance. In fact, when Dawn and I first reconnected, I asked her if she would go to Hawaii with me someday. She agreed, and a goal was formed. It took us more than four years to pull it off, but that really just built the anticipation of going for us. Finally, in December of last year, we decided we would be able to pull it off sometime in 2013, My first instinct was to plan the trip to celebrate Dawn's birthday. She was born on December 27th, so she often gets the short end of the stick when it comes to her birthday ("Here's a present for you, sweetie, this is for both Christmas and your birthday.") The more I looked at it, though, the more that seemed like the wrong answer. For one thing, Maui is very crowded that last week of December. Also, everything (airfare, lodging, etc.) is more expensive that week. It was an easy decision to move our trip to mid-October and celebrate our third anniversary instead. We got very reasonable airfare by watching the prices and booking as soon as they took a dip in March. If you've ever booked lodging in Maui, you know it can be a little expensive. Most of the places we were looking at had rates between $250-350 per night. Then I found a website called VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owners.) They had a ton of listings and we found a really nice one bedroom condo right on the beach in Kihei for $100 per night. Kihei tends to be a little less expensive than staying nearer to Lahaina in Kaanapali or Kahana. Having stayed previously in Lahaina, I can honestly say that I liked staying in Kihei better. The area around Lahaina can be really crowded and we found both the weather and the beaches better in Kihei. I think there are two basic kinds of Hawaiian vacations: The "pool" vacation and the "adventure" vacation. I know many people who fly to Maui then stay most all day beside the pool and only leave when it's time to go into town for dinner. Then there are people who plan some kind of an adventure most every day - snorkeling, snuba diving, hiking to waterfalls, zip-lining, etc. We fell more into that second category. Dawn had never been snorkeling before, so our first day there, I scheduled a basic snorkel trip where they included all the equipment along with instructions, safety tips and a great tour out to a coral reef by mile marker 14 outside Lahaina. I was a little worried about whether Dawn would enjoy it or not - I've seen people that just don't take well to snorkeling. I didn't need to worry. It was like she was born with flippers on. We shared our tour guide with two very nice and polite Canadians (shocking, right?) who fell on the other end of the spectrum. Jeffery, our guide, hauled a boogie board along behind him in case anyone needed to rest during the dive. Our new friends never let loose of the that board for one moment. At the end of the dive, I expected to see the indent of their fingertips on the board. We booked our trip with Maui Snorkel Tours in Kehei and Dawn and I both give them two enthusiastic thumbs up. The following day, we drove up to Lahaina and walked through the galleries and shops and enjoyed the shade of the incredible Banyan tree. When I say it is a "big tree," you might think of the mighty California Redwoods. The Banyan tree isn't nearly as tall as that, but it's immense wingspread covers the equivalent of a city block in front of the old courthouse.
Saturday night, we went on a sunset dinner cruise, leaving out of Ma'alea Harbor. We sailed on The Pride of Maui which I chose because it's not too big. With some of the sunset cruises, you're sharing your experience with 150 or so of your closest new friends. The Pride of Maui is much smaller and there were about 36 people on board. The cruise featured all the free booze you could drink during the two hour cruise and many of the revelers seemed more focused on that than on the food (which was much-touted, but turned out to be pretty mediocre) the live music (which was good, but located down below decks - who wants to be below decks in Maui?) or the sunset itself. In fact, when we left the harbor, the captain said he wasn't sure if we were going to see much of a sunset at all. Then, at the last moment, the clouds parted, the sun dropped into the ocean and we were rewarded with this view:
On Sunday, we rested. When we're home and I say "we rested," that means we sat around and watched movies or fooled around on our laptops. In Maui, that meant we didn't have any big adventure scheduled for the day and instead settled for exploring around Kihei, visiting some of the beaches and settling for long swims and quick snorkel dives. Oh, and I might have worked a lazy nap (okay, maybe two) in there as well.
Monday was one of my favorite days on the island. We signed on with a company called Aqua Adventures to take us snorkeling at Molokini, a mostly-sunken inactive volcano ten miles across the water from Ma'alea Harbor. I have been a snorkeler since I was 20 years old, but I've never seen snorkeling like was available on Molokini. If you are interested in seeing aquatic wild life up close and personal, I can't recommend this trip enough. There were so many fish, it was slightly surreal - like swimming inside a huge aquarium. The part of Molokini that is still above the waves is a bird sanctuary, so you can't walk on it or even touch it, but I snorkeled up to about three feet away, where the water was very shallow. The waves broke gently against the volcanic rock, swishing me and many dozens of fish to and fro with the rhythm of nature. It was an experience I will never forget.
After Molokini, we motored over to an area called "Turtle Town." There aren't really turtle condominiums and shopping malls, instead, it's an area where species of fish referred to as cleanerfish eat the parasites that grow on turtles. The turtles come from miles around, settle in to the bottom of the ocean, amongst the coral, and let the little fish clean them up.
We elected to pay a premium on the trip ($50 apiece, a bargain) to snuba dive. As you might guess, "snuba" is just a new word combining "scuba" and "snorkeling." It combines the ease of snorkeling with the ability to stay underwater for long periods of time of scuba diving. The problem with scuba diving, of course, is that you need to take classes and be certified before you're allowed to dive. With snuba-diving, you have a mask like in snorkeling, but a small raft floats on the surface holding your oxygen tank. A line extends to you underwater and you breathe in, breathe out, naturally and easily. At least, it was natural and easy for Dawn and me. A woman who tried it before us freaked out completely and stayed on the surface.
We stayed underwater, swimming through fish, turtles, eels and octopus for 30 minutes without having to surface. Those might have been the quickest 30 minutes of my life. When our guide pointed us to the surface, indicating our dive was over, I thought she must be kidding. It felt like we'd been in the water five minutes. All in all, the Molokini/Turtle Town adventure was an absolute highlight of our trip. I recommend it to anyone, especially through Aqua Adventures - the captain and crew were excellent.
Our next day was completely dedicated to the Road to Hana, as close as a zen experience (it's the journey, not the destination) in all of Maui. I have a lot to say about the Road to Hana, so I'll give it a blog of its own sometime later this week.
I've noticed a troubling trend of late.
A soldier who went on a killing rampage says through his attorneys that "an apology may be forthcoming at sentencing." Let that sink in for a minute. A man who needlessly, thoughtlessly, heinously killed other human beings and who has never publicly expressed remorse is announcing that he may apologize. At his sentencing hearing. When his fate is being decided.
Ryan Braun, a talented, world-class athlete who wasn't satisfied with the incredible athletic gifts he was given by nature, cheated by using illegal Performance Enhancing Drugs. When accused, he lied. Oh, and he attacked the reputation of the innocent man who took his urine sample. He didn't just lie to the public. He lied to his friends, like Green Bay Packer QB Aaron Rodgers. Rogers believed his friend to such a degree that in a twitter argument with a fan, he bet a years salary that Braun was clean. No word on whether he's paid up that 5-6 million dollars yet.
Three days ago, Braun "apologized." I put quotation marks there because he apologized through a ten paragraph written statement. He didn't schedule an interview with someone like Bob Costas, because Costas would have asked the uncomfortable questions he didn't want to answer. Instead, he wanted the public credit for acknowledging his cheating without actually having to take responsibility for it.
Obviously, the soldier who went on a killing rampage is a much more serious issue, but at the heart of both these stories is the troubling trend... using an apology as nothing more than another move in a public chess match. It's obvious that the original intention of apologizing - a remorseful accounting of wrongdoings with a meaningful intention to do what can be done to set things right - is long gone, at least in public situations.
This makes me sad. The idea of another perfectly valid human emotion being co-opted by PR hacks and being exploited without conscience is horrifying to me. But, what can we do about it? Nothing, I suppose, except note it, talk about it, and do our best to make sure that the people who hide behind calculated apologies get as little out of it as possible.
When I'm wrong (and that happens surprisingly often) I have learned to take responsibility, apologize honestly and ask for forgiveness if necessary. I say that I "learned" that behavior because that's what happened. In most people, I think the natural instinct is to deflect, if possible. I remember a day back in 1981 when I had just been appointed a Floor Manager in a large retail store in Tri-Cities, Washington. The General Manager of the store was doing a walk through one of my department when he noticed something amiss. He called me over, pointed out the mistake and asked me why it was that way. I immediately blamed it on my Department Head. The GM took me by the shoulder, looked me in the eye, and said "If you ever shift the blame to someone below you in the chain of command again, I will fire you."
It wasn't a pleasant moment, but it was a pivotal one in my life. It was a major step in learning how to take responsibility. I learned. I was lucky to have someone like that GM to help me learn. I know not everyone is so lucky, and that's how we end up with 10 paragraph statements being issued, and promises that "maybe" an apology will eventually be issued.
I first discovered Sharon Cathcart when I stumbled upon her book You Had to be There - Three Years of Mayhem and Bad Decisions in the Portland Music Scene. I enjoyed that book very much, partially because of my familiarity with the topic (I was hanging out in the Seattle music scene, just 180 miles north during the same time) but also because of Sharon's disarming honesty and perspective on many things. Now, she has a new novella out and I've invited her to share a little bit about it here on the blog:Writing in Another World
By Sharon E. Cathcart
I stepped out of my authorial comfort zone recently: I wrote an interracial romance novella. “His Beloved Infidel” Is the story of Farukh, an Iranian man, and Catherine, an American woman, finding love in Paris against the backdrop of the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
I was inspired to write this story of ordinary people caught up in extraordinary events after reading Sattareh Farman Farmaian’s memoir, “Daughter of Persia,” in which she talks about her life under three very different Iranian government regimes (Farmaian narrowly escaped execution during the Islamic revolution).
But I was also inspired by my own failure to take advantage of the opportunity to learn more, right in my own back yard.
I was in high school when the Islamic Revolution occurred. We had an Iranian exchange student, Hamid (nicknamed Ramin, which is Farsi for “one who brings joy”), who could not go home because of it. It never occurred to me to ask him what that felt like … what it meant from a personal perspective to have to live another year amongst the people against whom his new government railed. Like all teenagers, I was too self-absorbed to give it a second though.
I thought of Ramin often while I did the research for my novella. There are a lot of challenges when it comes to writing about a culture not your own, and it was always in the back of my mind that I needed to be both truthful and sensitive.
I read a lot of memoirs: first-person accounts are vital to understanding time and place, I think. Getting a little window on people’s lives is a great start.
I looked at Islamic art on the internet as well, and read a lot of poetry (I can’t recommend Rumi highly enough). Next time I’m in Paris, the Louvre’s Islamic art collection is high on my list of things to see. There is a scene in my book wherein Farukh takes Catherine to see the collection and talks to her about each of the Persian pieces as a way of sharing his culture with her.
There was only so much I could get from books and the internet, though. So, I turned to … my hairdresser.
Yes, my hairdresser. She and her husband escaped Iran during the Islamic Revolution. I was a little nervous about asking, and said I would understand if she didn’t want to talk about it.
“Sweetheart,” she said, “You ask because you have a big heart and want to know how people live all over the world. So, yes, I will tell you.”
From my delightful friend, I learned things about Islamic law, life in Iran, and even how to pronounce some things in Farsi that I never gleaned from my studies. Things that could only be learned by talking with someone who knows first-hand.
And that, for me, was of the utmost importance: the need to be culturally sensitive, because there were real people affected by the events in my tale.
And then there was the “interracial” aspect. I personally prefer to call it inter-ethnic, as I believe there is only one human race and ethnicity also includes culture. Over the course of my life, I have dated men from England, Spain, Ireland, Scotland, Australia, Hong Kong, Puerto Rico, Korea … so I’m no stranger to cultural and ethnic differences. So, I had some insight into how Catherine might feel as the American woman pursued by the Iranian man.
At some point, I realized I had to deal with familial prejudice. That’s not a pretty thing. When I was eight years old, my dad gave away the bride when her own parents refused to attend her wedding to an African-American man. Loving v. Virginia had been decided only five years earlier. I absorbed that lesson on the price of prejudice early on, obviously. As much as I wanted to leave it out of my tale, I knew it would be intellectually dishonest to do so. We are, as we did in the late 1970s, once again living in an Islamophobic culture … one in which the most radical are considered as representing the whole.
Honestly? Whenever I remember Ramin’s smile and warm laughter during our drama classes, I don’t see anything to fear. I see a handsome teenaged boy who was probably experiencing more inner turmoil than I’ll see in a lifetime.
I’ve also discovered that my decision to write this story has a personal price: I lost some fans because I chose to write a story that not only casts a Muslim man in a positive light, but that also makes him its hero. I can live with that, even as it makes me a little sad. As I read through the various categories of interracial romance, I couldn’t find any, other than mine, with a Middle Eastern male hero. Some people are just not ready for that.
So, there are a lot of challenges involved in writing about another culture. You have to do your homework. You have to be sensitive. And, you have to accept that some people might not like it. In my opinion, those people are not your audience anyway.
Here’s my philosophy: tell your story. Be proud of it. The world is waiting!
Books by internationally published author Sharon E. Cathcart provide discerning readers of essays, fiction and non-fiction with a powerful, truthful literary experience. Her primary focus is on creating fiction featuring atypical characters. To learn more about Sharon’s work, visit her website at http://sharonecathcart.weebly.com, or find her on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/sharon.e.cathcart .
Last week, I wrote about the songs Dawn chose for her chapter titles for the first half of Both Sides Now. Today, as my old radio idol Paul Harvey used to say, stay tuned for the rest of the story. (Does anyone else really miss the calming voice of Paul Harvey on the radio?)Chapter Thirteen - Living Inside Myself - Gino Vanelli First, if you'll click on the link, you'll see that I had a lot in common with Gino hair-wise, and I don't say that with any particular pride. We picked this song for this section because it reflected what would become a theme for Dawn for many years. She felt like she couldn't show her true feelings much of the time, so she kept them inside.Chapter Fourteen - Hold the Line - Toto Another of the songs that just screams out "1978" when that opening piano/guitar riff hits. This portion of the book reflected such confusion on both our parts. We both knew that we just wanted to be together in a normal way, but we couldn't find a way. We both would have been deliriously happy with phone calls and me driving down from the UW to see her every month or so, but that was not destined to be.Chapter Fifteen - Tonight's the Night - Rod Stewart We really waffled on this one. If you Google "Songs about your first time" or some such, this is at the top of every list. We tried to be less obvious than that, but it ultimately proved inescapable. It is a song we both love, and it definitely captures the je ne sais pas of the moment. Because this is a true story, we made the decision to make this a "lights out" romance book. We didn't want to scar our kids forever!Chapter Sixteen - I'm so Afraid - Fleetwood Mac I probably had more influence on Dawn picking this song than any other chapter, although we both love Fleetwood Mac. I'm sure you can understand that this and the next few chapters were the hardest things I've ever written. From Dawn's perspective, I "got what I wanted" and left her alone to deal with things alone. Knowing that was not the case doesn't make it any easier to think of her as 15 and alone... and so afraid.Chapter Seventeen - Love Hurts - Nazareth As a small boy, I grew up listening to a very different version of this song done by The Everly Brothers. This cover version by Nazareth is the one that was the soundtrack to the most painful times for us. There are times when I look back at all the pain of these days and feel like it's a miracle that we ever trusted anyone again. If I had known what Dawn thought of me all those years, I never would have had the confidence to blithely approach her again, hoping she still loved me. Chapter Eighteen - Wish You Were Here - Pink Floyd The shortest chapter in the whole book because I honestly couldn't stand to make it any longer. When I wrote this book I tried to put myself completely into Dawn so that I saw the world the way she did. At first I thought she picked this song because she wished I had been there, but in the end, I know that's not it. Chapter Nineteen - Comfortably Numb - Pink Floyd Back to back chapter titles from Pink Floyd, but neither could be changed. I never really got to talk to Dawn during the time I write about in this chapter, but I saw her occasionally. I remember walking across the Mossyrock school grounds and seeing her walking with Lon. I knew it was her, of course, but I didn't recognize her in any important way. She felt like a different person at the time. It was the fact that she was numb inside.Chapter Twenty - Again - Lenny Kravitz When the story moved ahead to the 21st century, the music did too. This is the chapter where I went to see Dawn again, and blew it... again. So, it was a perfectly apt chapter title. Mostly, though, Dawn picked this one because of the lyrics: All of my Life/Where have you been/I wonder if I'll ever see you again/and if that day comes/I know we could win/I wonder if I'll ever see you again.Chapter Twenty One - Hold on Tight - Electric Light Orchestra First, I think that Jeff Lynne is under-appreciated, and beyond some form of musical snobbery, I don't know why. In any case, this Lynn-penned song was the perfect representation of what Dawn was doing when she found out that her youngest daughter was living through the same situation Dawn and I had when we were the same age.
Chapter Twenty Two - After the Love has Gone - Earth Wind & Fire Honestly, I don't think Dawn's love for me ever went away. I just can't conceive of that. I know my love for her never did. However, I do believe that whatever feelings she had for me were buried under many layers of pain and numbness... until this chapter, when I started to make a comeback.
Chapter Twenty Three - Because the Night - Patti Smith Patti wrote this song with Bruce Springsteen, of course and I love how it manages to sound like both of them even though Bruce is nowhere near the recording studio. Every reader brings their own perspective to the book, of course, but to me the two pivotal chapters are this one and the next one. I wrote both these chapters in one long marathon session because I couldn't wait to get this part of the story told.
Chapter Twenty Four - Falling Slowly - Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (From the Movie Once) I suppose this chapter title is a little bit of a joke between Dawn and I. When we first discovered the untruths that had shaped so much of our lives, we both knew, deep inside, that we would never be apart again. Still, the practical parts of ourselves knew it was crazy to jump into things too quickly. Or, at least Dawn knew that. I didn't really care. Dawn was constantly reminding me to take things slowly - until she told me that she still loved me, too. After three days. Falling slowly? No... Forever? Yes...
Chapter Twenty Five - Beautiful Boy - John Lennon The day Dani gave birth to Yael, I got to see a miracle. Yes, the miracle of birth, but also the miracle of perfect love. When Yael was just a few minutes old, I saw Dawn's heart open up, pull him inside and hold him tight. Today, he is nearly four years old and a handsome boy indeed. I know to Dawn he will always be the beautiful boy.
Chapter Twenty Six - Grow Old With You - Adam Sandler I admit I blew this one in the book. I called it Grow Old with Me. Mea culpa. If that's the only mistake I made that day, it was a good day. I can't believe the odds were good that I would include an Adam Sandler song in our chapter list, but here it is. It was on a lark that day that I included this song on the CD we were listening to... until it wasn't. I love the idea of us growing old together - although Dawn will tell you that I will always be older than her.
Chapter Twenty Seven - At Last - Etta James Yes, we used the same title for the wedding chapter in the first book. We always knew it could never be anything else.
Chapter Twenty Eight - Just the Two of Us - Grover Washington (Bill Withers vocal) For almost all of our life it felt like it would never be this... just the two of us. I suppose everyone's honeymoon is one of the best times of their life - or at least it should be - but we knew we were living in the magic as it was happening. We kept looking at each other and couldn't stop our smiles. The odds were incredibly high against that moment ever arriving and we savored it completely.
Chapter Twenty Nine - How Much I Feel - Ambrosia Can we all agree that they don't write pop love songs like this any more? Back in the 70s, I just thought this was another good song. Listening to it now, I feel nostalgic for an entire generation of music. We chose this title because, at last, taking it slow or not, we were free just to be who we were, and to do it together.
Afterword - Love Will Find a Way - Pablo Cruise I can't help but think of Jurassic Park, where the mantra is "Life will find a way." Our story reflects the same thing about love, I think. In the end, love will find a way.
For now, I can finally feel like the story is complete. I've told both sides. And yet... I still have one last idea I want to explore about this simple little love story. I've got other projects to write first, so if the conclusion of the story, which I think of as Magnet and Steel, is to come to pass, it will be in 2014.
Up next will be Rock n Roll Heaven. I am having such a wonderful time writing this one, and I hope that joy will show up on the page. As I'm sure you can tell, music is very important to me and it infuses my writing. RnR Heaven will also feature song titles for chapters, so I've got at least one more of these blogs to write this year!