Category Archives: Confession

The Dedicated Dead

What are you a fan of? Is there a television series, book series, comic, or something else that excites you like nothing else?

Just the other day, I was discussing this subject with a coworker of mine trying to figure out what I’m a big fan of.

I enjoy some of the suspected franchises. I’m a big fan of Star Wars. I’ve read several of the books, seen all the movies, been to midnight releases, and played some of the video games. I don’t collect memorabilia or create my own costumes though, and I couldn’t have an in-depth discussion on which sith lord is the most powerful and back it up with “facts” from the books or expanded universe.

I used to read comics. Judge Dredd, Batman, and the X-Men were my favorites. Still, I’d lose in any argument that requires more than surface knowledge of these characters. I enjoyed the comics, tv shows, and movies, but my level of interest only goes so far.

My entertainment interests are like a person called a “Jack of all trades, master of none.” I’ve got a great surface knowledge of most of pop culture, but the depth isn’t there. I have enough understanding to appreciate most new ventures, but lack the committed time to the deeper competency in the subjects.

However, through our discussion, I did come to the realization that I did have a pretty good knowledge of and committed interest in one brand or show: The Walking Dead.

I’ve watched the original show from the beginning. I remember when my wife and I eagerly awaited the first episode. I hadn’t read the comics before then (still have only read a few of them since) but the commercials for the show looked amazing. And zombies? Yeah, I was in! We’ve watched every episode since.

File_000 (4)I can tell you a lot about the characters on the show, their back story, their motives for what they do. I’m invested in them. When certain ones die, I’m crushed.

I own several pieces of merchandise from t-shirts to coffee mugs to pop figures. Last year my wife and I went on a trip to Savannah, GA and left a day at the end of our vacation to visit Senoia, GA where they film The Walking Dead. We spent an entire day in that little town, doing a guided walking tour, eating at Nic and Norms (a burger restaurant owned and ran by Norman Reedus, who plays Daryl on the show, and producer Greg Nicotero) and enjoying one of the coolest gift shops with a small Walking Dead museum inside.

So yeah, I guess I do have a pop culture franchise I’m all in on. What about you? What’s your guilty pleasure that you know way more than you should about? It’s ok, all are welcome to share here! Leave yours in the comments below and lets leave the judgement aside. I’m curious to know what else all of you enjoy.

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Coffee With a Side of…Peanut Butter?

The old saying goes, there are only two things in life that are certain: death and taxes. I’d like to alter that statement.

There are only two things I can’t live without in life: coffee and peanut butter.

Now before you go bashing me for not mentioning my wife or son or something substantially more important than coffee and peanut butter, let me state clearly they are the most loved people in my life.

However…

coffee-1576552_960_720I started drinking coffee when I was in college. I worked at a fast food restaurant and had free access to coffee. I was going to school studying history and though I loved the subject (still do!) most historical works are boring to read. I’d get tired eyes fast. Working the overnight shift at times didn’t help either. So, I started drinking coffee on the regular. I’m enjoying the delicious beverage now as I write this!

At first it was all cream and sugar with a touch of coffee. My taste slowly evolved until I drank it black. Now, I’ll add a splash of some flavored creamer. Every morning I brew a pot of steaming goodness and drink most of it before I go to work.

peanut-butter-350099_960_720I honestly can’t recall when my peanut butter obsession came into being, but it’s common knowledge at home and work that if something has peanut butter in it, I’ll like it.

I’ll eat a toasted english muffin with peanut butter for breakfast and a peanut butter sandwich at lunch. Sometimes if I have bananas at home, I’ll add some slices to the sandwich. I don’t do the classic pb&j, just peanut butter on whole wheat bread.

My peanut butter obsession knowns no bounds. Give me peanut butter cup candy, blizzards from Dairy Queen with peanut butter, peanut butter pie…you name it, I’ve probably tried. Heck, there’s a local burger restaurant that has a bacon cheeseburger with peanut butter on it. I had to try it! The result? Pretty darn good!

I’m not ashamed of my addictions. I stand behind them waving their proverbial flags trying to entice others to join me. Where do you stand on these? What’s are the two things you must have? Share with the rest of us!

 

Youthful Dreaming

When I was younger, I wanted so badly to be a superhero.

I recall when I seriously considered how hard it would be to become Spider Man. I thought through what it would take to cross myself with radioactive spiders so I’d obtain the traits of the spider while still human. I wanted that possibility to be so real.

SpidermanI imagined myself running through the streets of Cleveland, jumping from building to building, in search of criminals and making the city a safer place. It felt so real and so possible that when it dawned on me it wouldn’t happen, I was crushed.

Then as I thought on it further, I realized the chances of that happening were slim. There was no way I’d find a spider like that and no way to tell if the desired effects would actually occur.

With those hopes dashed, I turned to a more realistic hero in Batman. I figured if I could create or obtain enough gadgets like him, I’d be a force to be reckoned with. Having no money or technical skill to create those devices, I soon found myself distraught once again with the realization it would never happen.

BatmanThe thing is, I wanted these to be real possibilities in life. I wanted to be a hero, to save others, and do good. I felt an ache inside when I couldn’t make it happen. I blurred fantasy with reality and when reality won, I had a difficult time reconciling that harsh truth.

I suppose reading comic books and being aware of bad things around me made me want to do something about it. As a young pre-teen, I had no control over evil. Murderers, kidnappers, drug dealers-I could do nothing to stop them. Visualizing myself as a superhero was my way of trying to contribute to a positive outcome in an otherwise difficult world.

I’ve yet to find a radioactive spider or create an arsenal of cool gadgets, but I have tried to do good as much as possible in all situations. I fail, but my mindset is always to do what’s right. It’s not the same as jumping between buildings with the strength and dexterity of an oversized spider, but I do what I can.

 

Choose Wisely

Shortsighted thinking often results in less than ideal situations. Not seeing beyond the present can have consequences that last a lifetime.

When I was in college, I didn’t know what I wanted to major in. I considered Radio and Television to prepare for a job as an on-air radio personality. I love music and thought that would be the coolest job. I had to choose a minor and one of the three available choices was history, which I was a big fan of.

I told my guidance counselor about my plans and she yelled at me. She scolded me for picking history. So, in my stubborn arrogance, I chose History as my major.

books-2606859_960_720That’s all good, except I never considered becoming an elementary or high school history teacher. All the ones I knew were “coach” first and teacher second. They treated the subject as secondary while I thought the importance of the subject was paramount to everything else. Every field of study has a history to it and in order to fully appreciate the current trends and future prospects, we have to know what came before.

So I completed my undergraduate studies with a Bachelor in Arts in the field of History. I had no idea what to do with my degree, so I continued on to graduate school where I focused on early Medieval history. I studied the British Isles and Ireland extensively. My Master’s thesis was on the Christianization of Ireland with a focus on the figure of St. Brigit who shared one two many similarities to an ancient Celtic goddess also named Brigit.

During my entire time in grad school, I never considered taking education classes to earn my teaching certificate. I studied history for the sake of knowledge with an eye to maybe teaching in college, but never in high school.

Now, over 16 years removed from my last class and thesis defense, I’m no where near where I thought I’d be. I joke that I have a master’s degree in history and I sell t-shirts. The truth of it is—that’s exactly what I am.

For the past 17 years, I’ve worked as a sales rep. for a screen-printing company, steadily growing my customer base and increasing my output to the point where I sell over $1,000,000 worth of t-shirts, coffee mugs, pens, and other items annually.

doors-1767562_960_720I’m not sharing life altering historical knowledge with anyone, but I do enjoy my work. Our company has a laid back feel (I mean, I can wear t-shirts and shorts to work every day!) but we’re also highly professional and one of the best in the business, all while staying in rural Southern Illinois with customers all over the country.

There are times when I wonder what it would be like if I’d have made the decision to add education courses to my college career and earned a teaching certificate. I wonder what kind of an impact I could’ve had on kids learning to figure out what this world is all about. I don’t dwell on it too much. As I’ve grown as a fiction writer, I do feel these past 17 years have given me the foundation to sell my books to potential buyers and made me comfortable in that role.

I guess the moral of the story is this: when those critical decisions are to be made, think about the long-term impact. Don’t get caught up in what consequences it will have in the next couple of years, but think how it might effect you far down the line. Do you want regrets or satisfaction from your decision? I can tell you which one I’d rather have, and it doesn’t include regrets.

Forgetting to Remember

Sometimes I’m terrible with names. I mean, really, really bad. I try hard to remember a name, but this brain can only take in so much information before it overloads.

There was a time I had a customer and I couldn’t remember her name. Still can’t.

I work as a sales rep. for a screen-printing company. One day many years back, I had an older woman come in to order t-shirts for her husband’s business. The name of the business was his name, Ralph’s Excavating* so she wanted everything written under his name; the account name, the contact name–everything.

I did as she asked. They also wanted names on the shirts so I gathered those from her and placed the order.

Several months later, maybe even close to a year, she comes back in to place a reorder. She called me by my name but I never repeated hers because I didn’t know it! I figured I could look at the names list for their previous order and figure out who she was. When she left and I pulled the last order, I was lost! They weren’t their regular names, but nicknames! I had no clue who she was!

remember-1750119_960_720She came back in a few months after that to place a reorder and still didn’t introduce her name to me. I couldn’t ask now! I was three orders in. I should’ve known by now. How could I possibly ask her what her name was? So for a third time I wrote the order using only her husband’s name. When we called to let them know their order was done, we’d always have to ask for Ralph because I didn’t know her name and was too embarrassed to ask.

She treated me so nice too. I mean, she was like a grandma. Always asking about my family and how things were. Telling me about her grandkids and such. But I didn’t know her name! It was awful.

Then, a few years later, I had a younger guy come in for the account. He was her son and said “mom passed away a year ago and I’m taking over the ordering.” Not, “Hey my mom Jean” or “Hey my mom Barb.” Nothing. No name.

So here I am, years later without a clue as to her name.

Ever have that happen to you? Ever date someone and not know their name? Ever know someone a while and not know who they were? Share with the rest of us! I can’t be the only one, right?

*Names, when remembered, have been changed to protect the innocent.

 

Rough Writing

This post is one I originally posted on Facebook at the end of July and was one of my most viewed posts ever! It’s a deeply personal account of a tough moment in my writing “career.” I’ve posted about it before but this seemed to resonate with many writers and readers. Here ya go!


Last year, I learned a valuable lesson in regards to my writing.

I wanted to turn one of my four NaNoWriMo novels into a publishable book. I choose what I thought was the best one and revised it then hired an editor to look it over.

When I got the edits back, I was also given a brutally honest assessment of the work. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear, but man it was so helpful and so spot on. I cannot thank that editor enough for opening my eyes to the problems it had and¬†how far from being ready it was.

Then, a few days later, I attended a writing conference where they were doing a blind reading of submitted stories with a panel of agents and small publishers. Anyone that wanted to could submit a three page sample of their story and they’d read it out loud for the entire conference to hear. Once it got to the point in the story where that agent or editor would’ve rejected the submission, they were to raise their hand. Once a majority of the panel rejected it, they’d stop and offer a critique of why they rejected it (or if it went the entire length, why they would’ve asked for more).

I submitted my three pages. So did about a hundred other writers. They only read five submissions but guess whose got read? Yeah, this guy right here! It was the same story I had my editor work on. Already feeling bummed about the comments received so far, when they started reading mine I was in shock but also curious.

boy-859364_960_720When they got to the second page, hands started flying up. I sipped my Diet Coke like nothing was going on but inside I was crushed. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Their feedback was brutal. Much like the editor I worked with, they didn’t hold back, however this was in front of a room of over a hundred writers! Fortunately the only person that knew who’s story they were critiquing was myself.

Those combined experiences with that draft made me question everything I was doing. Was I good enough? Do I have a clue about what I’m doing? Was I mistakenly claiming the title of “writer?” Should I give up?

My drive home from that conference was a dark, lonely drive. However, when I finally pulled in the driveway, I determined to use this for good.

I vowed to get better, to try harder, to continue progressing in my craft because I love it. I enjoy writing and it’s a part of me now. I chose to take their criticisms not as a personal attack, but as my alarm to improve my writing. I had skill, but it needed work.

It was a tough lesson to learn, but in the end the most valuable thing to happen to me.

The Year of Me

2016 was an interesting year. It began with the release of my first collection of dark fiction short stories (Almost) Average Anthology.

signing
At the Book House in St.Louis – my first book signing!

For those that have actually read my book, its been well received. The positive response has been humbling. I’ve met many new readers/fans and some that I’ve stayed pretty close with. My decision to create a paperback copy of what was at the time just “an experiment” in self-publishing made all the difference (thanks Dan!) I was able to do book signings and attend book fairs and conferences.

My first book signing at The Book House in St. Louis will always stick with me (thanks so much Ken!) Then my first book fair with the St.Louis Indie Book Fair was a great experience. I met the organizer Mark Pannebecker and fellow author John W. Smith. Mark also organized the book fair side to Con-Tamination which I attended and met authors Ray Wenck and Vince Churchill.

Meeting these authors has opened even more doors for me. In April I’ll be at Wizard World in St.Louis because of Ray and in September I’ll be at PennedCon in St.Louis because of John. These authors have been invaluable to me and I look forward to growing as a writer with them.

readingvacation
Reading my story “Vacation” at the St.Louis Indie Book Fair.

In 2016 I also started the year as a writer for Sum’n Unique Magazine. The founder and head guy in charge F. Kenneth Taylor has a vision for his magazine that I completely understand and support. Through him I was able to have my first book signing, first interviews, and more. From my time with S.U.M. I also met fellow writers Lakesha Mathis and Kevin Daniel. All this amazing talent! I wish I could’ve stayed with them but I needed to focus more on my fiction writing and had to step down about mid-year. If you’ve not heard of S.U.M. or their writers, I encourage you to check them out.

In the Spring of 2016 I was also surprised to have one of my stories from (Almost) Average Anthology published on the No Extra Words Podcast. Hearing my words spoken by someone else was an amazing experience.

Of course every year has it’s downside too. For me it came around June when I thought all was going well. In a sense it was going well (and still is) but I hit a bump in my writing. Everyone has critics. Everyone has more to learn in their craft. I was so caught up in thinking I knew what I was doing that when I encountered my first real criticism, it snuffed out my flame of creativity. The critiques I heard were valid and right. They were meant to help me create true works of fiction. I’ll forever be grateful for the lesson, but at the time it made me rethink a lot of what I was doing. In the end it was by far the best thing that could’ve happened to me.

Then in October I released my second collection of dark fiction short stories Moments of Darkness. This collection can be seen as (Almost) Average Anthology vol. 2. So far it’s not taken off as well as the first one but I’m hopeful it will soon. If not, that’s ok too. As I continue to write and new readers discover my work, they’ll have a back catalogue to peruse.

I started 2016 as an unpublished writer and I leave the year as the author of two collections of short stories. I’ll take that! I took my dream and made it happen. I’ve created¬†new connections over the year that have helped me along the way. Not a bad year if I do say so myself! Thanks for sticking with me through all of this. Here’s to an even greater 2017!