Saturday, July 24, 2010

Is it ALWAYS this hot?

Well, after a series of rather comical (not at the time, of course) episodes of getting lost -- including getting onto the wrong Pennsylvania Turnpike (don't ask), we arrived in Washington, D.C. Thursday evening.

We've been here several times, including as recently as last year. Once, in the summer of 2005, I was here with my son Zach and his eighth grade class and it was very hot.

But that was nothing. I mean, it's freaking HOT here now. I mean fry-an-egg-on-the-sidewalk, melt the frigging soles of your tennis shoes hot.


Brennan and I walked for several hours yesterday with the heat index well above 100 degrees and by the time we got back to the hotel, we both looked a bit like Chevy Chase in the film Vacation when he wanders in the desert after wrecking the Family Truckster. Today, we took a cab to Union Station for lunch. We're dumb, but we're not stupid.

I also found a really cool cigar shop and bought some fine sticks for the trip. I was in heaven, believe me.

Unfortunately, Brennan and I learned the Marc train doesn't run on weekends anymore, so we were faced with a conundrum: How to get to Baltimore tomorrow to meet up with blog friend Tracy for the Orioles-Twins game?

Finally, I booked us on Amtrak from Union Station to Penn Station in Baltimore. Round trip cost? $75! And that doesn't' include the light rail from the station to Camden Yards and back. We leave in the morning from the hotel at about 9 and won't get back until about 8 at night.

And it's supposed to rain and storm all day.

Regardless, we're spending the day in Baltimore, rain or shine. I hope the kid's up for eight hours of schlumping through museums and aquariums.

Oh well. We're here and having a blast. Hope all is well with you guys. I'll update again when I get the chance.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Heading East

We're hitting the road early tomorrow for a much-anticipated 10-day trip out East. Yes, we're driving, although we are normally a "flying family."

See, I firmly believe every kid needs at least one long car trip with his or her parents. It's like a rite of passage. My own memories of driving across the country cooped up in the backseat with my kid sister while my Dad grumbled and slouched behind the wheel as my Mom lectured him on his driving skills are, well, not so great. But hey, it's still a rite of passage.

After a two-day drive, we'll spend six or seven days at the Washington Hilton near the Capitol. The wife has a Newspaper Guild convention there, so Brennan and I get to be tourists while she works. I spent nearly twenty years attending such conventions all over the country (including Hawaii!), so I've earned the right to lounge on the National Mall with a cigar while she works.

We've been to Washington and Baltimore several times, so we know all the cool places. And I know several people who work at the Capitol from my political days, so we always get some cool tours. Last year, Brennan and I got to tour the Senate wing of the Capitol and sat at Sen. Dick Durbin's desk. We also sneaked a peak into Harry Reid's office and watched them set up the scaffolding for President Obama's Inauguration. It was incredibly cool to get up close and watch the set-up. Brennan especially liked all of the Secret Service guys with their scoped automatic rifles.

On Sunday, Brennan and I are taking the train to Baltimore to meet up with blog friend Tracy to catch lunch and an Orioles game. I'm excited since it's the first time I'll get to actually meet an online blog friend and fellow author! We're also planning on hitting a Washington Nationals game Tuesday night (the wife can attend that one).

Next Wednesday, we're heading off to Virginia for some historical tours (Monticello, Colonial Williamsburg and Jamestown) before ending up at the world-famous Busch Gardens amusement park for some serious roller coaster action. After that, we'll have a couple of days for a scenic trip home through the mountains of Virginia, West Virginia and Kentucky before heading back up into Illinois.

I'll have the laptop and there's wi-fi at the hotel in Washington, so I will be able to post some short updates and read all of your cool blogs. That said, we probably won't have an Internet connection until Thursday night or Friday morning.

Oh, and for any would-be burglars out there, be advised we have housesitters. ;)

Friday, July 16, 2010


Is this any faster? I'm not sure if I like it as much as the previous design, but it seems a bit faster to me.

Please let me know if this makes any difference. I'm open to playing around some more to find a background that I like and that loads quicker.

Thanks for your feedback.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

A quick poll

I need your help.

Specifically, I need to know if any of you have trouble loading this blog (especially since I changed formats a few weeks ago). One of my followers has been having issues with loading the page and reading it once it's loaded. It's slow, she says.

It doesn't exactly speed along for me either, come to think of it. But I do love the new look.

So please weigh in and tell me if you have loading/reading issues. If enough of you are having difficulties, I'll find a faster-loading format.

Thanks and carry on.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Is my blog dying?

I hope not. I decided to take some much-needed time this summer to spend with the wife and kids, since I've spent the past three-and-a-half years with my butt in this seat and my eyes glued to this computer screen.

My writing had pretty much taken over my life. And then I created this blog last November and discovered blogging and all the cool writer friends online. I had finished my first novel and was in the midst of several revisions, so I had more time than usual to blog and comment and do all those cool things that, in the end, eat up tons of time.

Time I used to spend writing. Or with my family. I've been trying to rectify that last one the past few weeks, and it's been greatly rewarding. But I worry that it's come at the expense of my blog friends.

I greatly value you guys, so it's been tough seeing some you go away. I've started to lose followers and that saddens me. And now I see many of my blog friends are taking time off, too.

I really hope we all reconnect this fall. Even though I plan to start back on the new book in earnest the minute the kid goes back to school, I would hate to think of going back to writing in a vacuum, without the input and friendships I've grown accustomed to over the past few months.

I read recently that the average lifespan of a blog is about six months. I really don't think I'm ready to throw in the towel yet. Are you?

So I hope you guys come back and we can get back to the give-and-take that I find so vital to my writing career. I really hope we're all just a little lazy and enjoying the nice weather and our families -- and not breaking off our friendships.

In other words, the answer to my question above is -- no. This blog is going nowhere. So, who's with me?

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Talk derby to me!

I finally got to watch my lovely wife, Jennifer (Genghis Mom, her official Derby Name) skate with some of her teammates at an exhibition at the Marshall County Fair yesterday.

She was awesome. (I took the crappy cell-phone photo at left yesterday.) While it wasn't a bout (their first one is coming up on Saturday), it was an opportunity for the fledgling league to showcase their skills, talents and, um, short skirts. They were a big hit. In fact, several young fair beauty pageant winners sat next to me and the (very thrilled) 12-year-old and asked so many questions about roller derby that I eventually sent them to a team member, who gave them some information on how to join up.

This wasn't her first exhibition, but it was the first one I have attended (the last one was at the same time as a Little League tournament 40 miles away).

I have to admit, I've become a huge fan over the past couple of months. I knew little about roller derby, other than some fuzzy memories of those crazy 70s teams that wore lots of nylon and faked all of their moves (remember Raquel Welch in Kansas City Bombers?).

Roller derby today is very different.

Today's Derby Girls (as they prefer to be called) are athletic, skilled and hard-working. They take their sport seriously. It's dangerous and damned difficult. In the three months of our league's existence, there have been countless bruises and cuts, two broken ankles, a broken tailbone and one broken neck. Seriously! It's not for the faint of heart.

But the most fascinating thing for me has been watching what it's done for Jennifer.

She is a features editor at the newspaper where I worked. It's a hard, stressful job with crappy pay and long hours. She's also president of the Newspaper Guild local (the union that represents journalists and other newspaper workers). That also is hard and time-consuming, not to mention thankless as hell. I was also a reporter and editor there and was president of the same local (we are the only husband-and-wife presidents in the local's 50-plus year history), so I know what I'm talking about.

Many of you know that times are tough for newspapers these days. Very tough. Between a crushing economy, piss-poor ownership and rapidly declining readership, our beloved newspaper is circling the drain. Many have lost their jobs over the past three years. It's been horrific to watch, since these people are friends of ours.

When I voluntarily left three years ago, I was so burned out I felt like I was 100 years old. It's amazing how much better I feel these days, despite the stresses of trying to get a novel published. It's not even close to the stress I experienced in journalism.

As I was recovering from journalism, I knew I needed something I could be passionate about, something that would give me the personal satisfaction I needed. I found that passion in fiction writing. It's been a blessing to me, believe me, even though I bitch and moan about it. It's literally saved my life. Getting a chance to pursue my dream is, well, a dream come true.

I've watched the toll journalism has taken on my lovely and usually optimistic wife. She's come home and cried too many times to count over the last three years. It's been a trying time for those poor souls at newspapers, both here and around the nation. Add in the fact that the union has been busting its ass to save people's jobs, often without success, and you can imagine the amount of stress she's been under.

Enter roller derby.

She has fallen head-over-heels in love with the sport. It's hard and violent and the perfect outlet for all of that stress. Jennifer has never been what one could call athletic, but she's all in for this. She's joined my gym and works out like a pro. She hits all of the practices and sweats and bleeds for her sport.

She's my new hero.

It's been like a tonic for her. She's found something to be passionate about, something she enjoys with ever fiber of her bruised and battered little body.

As I watch her, I can't help but equate it with my own dreams. She never, in her wildest dreams, thought she would end up being a tough-as-nails roller girl. But she is. And she's a damned good one, too. And I never in my wildest dreams thought I would get a chance to try to become a published author.

We are chasing our dreams, our passions. And it has rejuvenated us both.

I would encourage any women reading this to look into today's roller derby. It's not your mother's roller derby, believe me.

Start with renting Whip It, the roller derby film starring Ellen Page and Drew Barrymore. After you've watched that, go to and rent the first (and only) season of Rollergirls, a reality show from A&E. It's awesome and is a true-to-life representation of being a roller girl today. Then buy the book Down and Dirty: The Insider's Guide to Roller Derby by Jennifer "Kasey Bomber" Barbee and Alex "Axles of Evil" Cohen.

And then find a start-up league in your area and join up. If there isn't one, look into starting one. You won't regret it.

I got an award!

Sorry it took so long to respond to this, but as most of you know, I've been on a sort of summer vacation (more like just being lazy, actually).

Anyway, the lovely Amanda Borenstadt at awarded me the Versatile Blogger Award a few days ago. Thanks Amanda!

Now I need to tell you seven things about me that you (probably) don't know. Here we go.

1. I've been married three times.

2. I have three sons and two cats.

3. My stepfather was a state trooper and I wanted to be a cop for years -- until I couldn't get accepted. Only then did I decide I wanted to be a journalist.

4. I served four years in the U.S. Air Force as a, you guessed it, security police officer.

5. I pronounced my Rs like Elmer Fudd until I was 12 years old. I was only able to stop after being forced to see a speech specialist in sixth grade.

6. I have a familial disease that causes me to have dramatically high levels of triglycerides in my blood. That puts me at risk for heart problems, so I've taken three different kinds of cholesterol meds and seen a cardiologist regularly for a decade. It also forced me to get off my ass and get to the gym five days a week.

7. I'm a closet Lady GaGa fan. Seriously.

And now I'm supposed to pass this on to some of my versatile blog friends. Oh, and I'm lazy as hell these days, so please click on the following wonderful blogs in my links to the right.
Let's see (closes eyes and points at followers):

Gina at A Muse in My Pocket
Josin at Her Bloggish Blog Thing
Christi at A Torch in the Tempest
Anne at Piedmont Writer
Jessica at The Alliterative Allomorph
Meleah at Momma Mia, Mea Culpa

Friday, July 9, 2010

How do you handle rejection?

Rejection hurts. Whether you're trying out for a baseball team or asking that guy or girl out on a date, hearing the word "no" can send anyone into a tailspin.

Rejection that comes as a result of having little or no talent in a particular area, such as hitting a baseball or driving a golf ball, is bad enough. But it's still a rejection of a particular skill set. OK, so I can't hit a baseball. That sucks, sure, but it's not the end of the world. Right?


But as writers, especially writers of fiction, it seems to me that rejection hurts even more because it goes to our core being.

When I slice open a vein and pour my innermost thoughts, desires, intellect and passions onto the page, I am leaving a piece of my essence there. My fiction represents me in the most basic, primitive way.

Reject that and you're rejecting my intelligence, creativity and, well, me. Those rejections hurt far more than others, let me tell you.

Jack Bickham, in his book The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, hits the nail on the head when he writes:

When you write fiction, whether you realize it or not (and at some level, you probably do), you are risking revelation of your dreams and deepest emotions. It's frightening to reveal yourself this way, even indirectly. Further, the act of writing is tied very close to a person's ego structure ... The most humdrum piece of writing somehow represents the person's worth as a person sometimes. Because if it's dumb, the writer is dumb. And if the writer is dumb, he is also, ipso facto, worthless, an object of potential ridicule ... doomed.

Amen, brother.

I realize I have been lagging a bit lately in my querying. I really have been unplugged from work and the Internet for a few weeks now. My wife took the week off and we have been having a blast. And Little League is finishing up with a game tonight and then one more after that.

I tell myself I'm not querying at the moment just to "let things ferment a bit." Uh huh. Right. I suspect it's because the form rejections I've received so far have hurt far more than I thought they would.

But I shall overcome. Seriously. I'm climbing back on that horse. I've spent a few days polishing the first couple of chapters of The Devil You Don't Know and I'm getting ready to tackle the damned query letter. Again.

I know most of us claim we just shrug off those rejection letters and go on. And we do, ultimately. Otherwise, no one would get published.

But seriously, how deeply do the "no thanks" from agents cut for you? Do you take them as a criticism of your very essence? Or just another writing career hazard?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Getting to know each other -- Part 2

I owe each and every one of you an apology for being so absent from the Internet the past few days. Instead, I've been spending quality time with my 12-year-old son, enjoying the beautiful weather and spending hours and hours plotting my new novel while sitting on the front porch with a bottle of sweet green tea and a good cigar.

No. Wait. I'm not apologizing for any of that. I've been having a blast -- a relaxing blast, if you can wrap your mind around that phrase.

Anyway, I've only been online sporadically the past couple of weeks. And I do apologize to the members of my crit group for being absent recently. I promise I'll be more involved in the coming days and weeks.

And that whole "I'm not working at all until the kid goes back to school" thing? Forget it. Instead, I've been working a few hours a day between times with the kid. It's been the perfect thing for my anxiety and writer's block I've been going through. And best of all, it's been guilt free!

So tonight, I have two somewhat-related questions for you, dear bloggy friends. Some of you eagle-eyed members of Bransforums might remember I asked similar questions over there some months ago and they got tremendous responses.

Here we go:

1. Do you write in your pajamas? Or do you get fully dressed before you begin your writing/editing/revising?

Me, I usually write in my black and green X-Box pajama pants and a tee-shirt. Sometimes, I'll wear shorts, a tee-shirt and sandals or flip-flops in the summer. The main thing for me is being totally comfortable.

My writing area is downstairs in the family room/study, so I'm usually out-of-view if someone is over to the house -- not that the sight of me in my pajama pants and Led Zeppelin tee would necessarily send someone screaming in horror from the house. But hey, you never know. Better safe than sued, I always say.

2. Do you listen to music when you write? Television? Or do you require total silence?

Me, I need absolute silence to write. No TV, no baseball. Nothing. Otherwise, my attention wanders and I get out of the narrative. This goes for editing and revising, too. I need to fully concentrate, and the slightest distraction pulls me off course.

I do, however, listen to music on my iPod while plotting or outlining or just plain thinking. I especially like to stay up really late, after everyone has gone to bed, put on the headphones, fire up a cigar and sit downstairs in the dark and just think about my story. I let it play out in my mind like a movie. Sometimes, my story takes a weird twist or turn because of a particular song I'm listening to at that moment. Music really helps me create, I've found.

I'm fond of classic rock (70s stuff with a progressive or punk edge), although my iPod has music from the Beatles to Lady Gaga and from the Clash to Lily Allen. I just love music. Period.

So how about you guys and gals? Pajamas? Fully clothed? Music? What kind? TV? Quiet? Let me know and we can all get to know each other a little better.