A Big Move


This is a message for the five or so people who actually took the time to subscribe to my blog.

First, I cannot thank you enough for your time and engagement. It was your comments that kept me writing in the days when I was quite convinced that no one had, or would ever have, the slightest interest in anything I had to say. You proved me wrong, and it was good.

Second, I won’t be posting on this site anymore. I actually got my act together and hired someone to help me with my website (which is run on a WordPress platform, anyway). So the site works well, and I’ve actually figured out how to use it…well, a little, anyway.

If you’re still interested in hearing what I have to say, please subscribe over at my website: http://www.tynergillies.com

I’m going to do my best to post there regularly, and I am hopeful of your continued engagement.





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The Quit is real, but you are not alone.

This past weekend was the annual Surrey International Writer’s Conference. For those of you who have read this blog before, you’re probably aware that this event is tantamount to Mecca for me, and I never miss it.

The conference attracts some really cool people, both attendees and presenters. It also attracts some really…interesting people. For example: an individual in a manuscript critique class I attended, changed the mandate of the workshop from ‘let’s all talk about our work and help each other’, to ‘what ridiculous shit can I think up to piss all over the story you worked so hard on.’ Of course, me being me, I spent the rest of the workshop contradicting everything they said and telling people how awesome they were. You can probably draw your own conclusions about how much this individual wanted to talk to me after that.

Among the folks who attend every year, I have been fortunate enough to build some important friendships, and over the course of the weekend I was able to spend some time with those friends.

On Friday night, after I finished smashing a pumpkin during Michael Slade’s Shock Theatre, I retired to my room with three other guys (all of whom are much further along in their careers than me) and opened a bottle of good Scotch (well, that’s a lie – I had already opened it and drank some, because…well, because Scotch). We sat around for the better part of two hours, telling stories, discussing the publishing industry, and talking about our dads.

It was a strange coincidence that all of us had lost our dads, and I for one got a little emotional during the conversation. It wasn’t that I was sad about the death of my father – I mean, I still am, but I’ve had three and half years to grieve so the wound no longer has any real sting. I think, rather, I was relieved to know that I wasn’t alone in the fact that I still missed my dad, still talked to him in the silence of my mind, still reached for the phone to call him until I remembered that he wasn’t going to answer. These are things we had in common, and it made me feel a little less crazy.

When the Scotch was gone, we all decided to change venue. I said, as we were leaving, that I was glad for the opportunity to talk to other guys about their dads. One of my friends turned to me, clapped his hand on my shoulder and said, “One of the great universal topics among men is Fathers and Sons.”

I thought about that for the rest of the conference. I thought about my dad, and universal concepts. And, as I attended workshops and visited with my dearest friends, I looked around and wondered how many of the other writers I was talking to thought continually about giving up.

I don’t know about you, but I think about it all the time; especially when I get a rejection letter (my most recent favourite was “your writing is too colloquial for our current list”), or I don’t win a contest, or my publisher sends me a royalty cheque that is in the single digits.

This wasn’t even a bad writing year. I finished and polished a YA novel that I think might actually be pretty good, and I’m half way done the first draft to the third Quinn Sullivan novel. I have received a handful of reviews from people who dug my work and sent me emails to say how much they dug it. But despite those successes, I often feel like I am shouting into a void and don’t get back so much as an echo. I think, more often than I should, maybe I suck at this, and maybe this isn’t for me.

I was still thinking about that when I attended Liza Palmer’s workshop, entitled: “6 tips to stay away from the dark side.” I had attended Liza’s workshops at the conference before, and always felt them helpful. I was not disappointed.

For an hour and fifteen minutes, Liza highlighted every moment in her career (she pretty much rocks out, and you can learn more here: www.lizapalmer.com) where she felt like quitting, and what strategies to employ to combat the quit. She talked about fear, failure, jealousy, love and the craft of storytelling. While she talked I took copious amounts of notes and kept saying – very quietly, so the person sitting next to me did not think me insane – yeah, this is me, this is all me.

Another thing I said to myself is: I am not alone, in this.

One of the most poignant things Liza said during her workshop was this: Thank yourself for how far you’ve already come.  Not, ‘be greatful’ or ‘give yourself credit’. Thank yourself, because no one did it but you, and you have to be thankful for all the miles you’ve already put under your bootheels.

Whether you are starting out, or a wiley veteran, writing your first story, or your fiftieth, you are going to feel like it is hard, and you suck, and no one gives a shit about what you write. That is normal, and you are not alone.

The thing is, to put the quit aside, because if you are writing, then there is a story inside of you. And no one else can tell it, but you.

As always, thanks for reading.


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Awards Can Be Hard To Take

I was honoured, last night, to be recognized during the 2017 Surrey Detachment OIC’s (Officer In Charge) awards. The awards are designed to give recognition to both police officers and civilians who have performed admirably, either in a single incident or over a long project/investigation.

I was recognized twice (I think the record for the evening was four times). One of my awards was an Officer’s Commendation for what I gladly describe as one of my proudest moments. An individual, with a propensity to act poorly, did a large number of very bad things, which culminated in him stealing a car with a seven week old baby inside. I was part of the team that located the missing child and later arrested the bad guy. I look back on that as one of my best days as a street cop, and as I stood up with the other members of the team who all did good work, my heart felt full and I could not keep a smile off my face.

The other award, a certificate of appreciation, is hard for me to look at.

In the Autumn of 2011 I was the first supervisor on scene for the murder of a young woman. While the other moment is one of my best, this particular incident is easily the worst I have experienced in my career.

There were supposed to be three of us getting recognized at the same time, but the other two members couldn’t make it, and I was alone when they called my name and I marched to the center of the stage. The 2nd in command of the Detachment read out a brief description of what I had done, and why I was being commended, and I had to struggle to keep the tears from my eyes as I remembered the incident, how I felt about it then, and how I still feel about it now. I only kept it together because I could see my spouse, Sayeh, in the audience…as well as the fact that I didn’t want to cry in front of a room full of cops.

Immediately after the incident, I was a wreck and remained that way for weeks. I had nightmares, and was diagnosed with PTSD, and struggled with both the anger and despair I felt about the incident. Ultimately, the only thing that really allowed me to process the incident and manage my feelings, was to write about it.

As any storyteller will tell you, the best therapy is the written word, either writing or reading, and I turned to the page for relief. I wrote it out long hand, and was forced to work in small sessions because I got so upset (and by upset I mean furiously angry), over the incident that I couldn’t keep it up for long. Eventually I finished it, then typed it out and edited it (mostly for grammar, as the content was etched on my mind like a stone tablet), and then submitted it to a contest – mostly so I could force someone else to read it. Much to my infinite surprise it won the contest.

When I wrote the piece, I found closure. Then, when I won that contest, I found validity; all those feelings that I had bottled and carried around with me for years were recognized as valid and worth talking about. The emotions I felt, and spilled out onto the page, were something that other people identified with, and allowed to touch them. It was the thing I needed to reclaim my sanity.

Now, as I think about how I felt getting that award last night, I feel compelled to share it again.

Blood In Her Hair

The acrid tang of gun-smoke still hung in the dark air as I scrambled out of my patrol car.

               “I found her,” Dan shouted from across the rooftop parking lot.

               “Grab a first aid kit,” I told Vanessa, another of my people, as I ran across the black-top towards where Dan crouched between two parked cars.

               We’d gotten a 9-1-1 call about five minutes earlier, of a man shooting at someone from a vehicle, and then driving away at high speed. That ‘someone’, I quickly discovered, was a slender eighteen year old girl.

               I knew she was still alive because she made eye contact with me. They would have been beautiful, her eyes, any other time, but now they were wide, and wet, and terrified.

               “We need to get her out in the open,” I told Dan, then reached down to take a hold of her. She was so small I was able to lift her with one hand, grasping the belt looped through her jeans, and pulled her from between the two cars.

               Vanessa slid to her knees beside me and yanked open the first aid kit, scattering the contents around us. We began to assess the girl as best we knew how, and found she had so many holes in her we didn’t have enough hands to plug them. Her hair, lustrous and shining beneath the orange glow of the street lamps, was now slick with her own blood.

               As Vanessa pulled handfuls of gauze pads from the first aid kit and pressed them against the worst of the girl’s wounds, I reached up to touch her forehead. I wanted to tell her she’d be all right, and she was not alone, and try to give her some comfort and we struggled to hold her broken body together. But her eyes had become vacant and unfocused, drifting above my head instead of fixed on my face. I pressed my fingers beneath the arching line of her jaw, covering my hand to the wrist with the dark blood in her hair, but I felt no pulse and knew she was gone.

               “Dan, grab the mask and start some breaths,” I said. “I’ll do the compressions.” I placed my hand on the flat spot between her breasts and was struck again by how small she was; my hand covered the width of her chest, my fingers resting on the hard ridges of her rib cage. I started CPR, trying to keep her heart pumping, and had to push hardly at all to reach the depth we needed. I counted out loud, telling Dan when to breathe for her. As Dan blew air into her through the breathing mask, causing her tiny body to inflate, I shouted into the shoulder mic of my portable radio, asking again for the medics. Without listening for a reply, I lost myself in the rhythm of the compressions and tried not to look at her cold, unfixed eyes.

               After what seems like hours, but was probably more like ten minutes, I felt a set of strong hands pull at my shoulder. I turned to see several teams of medics and firefighters surrounding us, and I stood stiffly, gratefully, to get out of their way.

               Now that someone else was taking care of the girl, I went about the tasks of securing the scene. Every few minutes I’d lean over the shoulder of the medic in charge and ask for an update. At first she ignored me, but eventually looked up and simply shook her head. The pace of her team didn’t slow, but it was apparent that they worked without any hope. Within a few minutes of their arrival, the medics had the girl loaded into an ambulance and drove off with their sirens blaring.

               The next two hours passed in a blur of frantic questions and shouted orders, but eventually several other cops, with more stripes on their shoulders than me, arrived to take command of the scene and I was allowed to go.

               I got back into my patrol car and made my slow, painful way across the city. I didn’t have a mark on me – other than broad splotches of the girl’s blood – but I hurt. The sight of that child’s death, the knowledge that I was the last face she’d ever look at, cut me in a way I’d never felt and left me crippled.

               At the detachment, I staggered into my office to slump in my chair and let my head hang towards my knees. I felt as though I wanted to cry, the sobs gathering like storm clouds in the center of my chest, and I focused on keeping my breaths even so the tears would not flow.

               A pair of booted feet appeared in front of me, and I looked up. My sergeant, Curtis, was shrugging into his uniform coat, the look on his face suggesting he was about to march to his own hanging.

               “Where are you going?” I asked.

               “The boss just called,” he said, referring to our staff sergeant. “The girl’s family just showed up at the hospital and the emergency room staff don’t want to tell them their kid is dead. I have to go and do it.”

               The last thing I wanted to do was face that child’s family, but I could not let Curtis haul this burden alone. I stood up and grabbed my own coat.

               “Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.”

               Curtis didn’t even try and refuse, and led the way to his truck.

               Ten minutes later we arrived at the waiting room of the hospital. It was filled with anxiety-strained faces, and they crowded around Curtis and I as we walked in. The girl’s father, a dignified man in his later years, stepped past the other family members to face us, his back straight and his hands clasped in front of him. Curtis introduced us, and the child’s father cleared his throat.

               “One of my daughter’s friends called us and said she had been hurt. You have news?”

               Curtis started to speak, but his voice caught, and he shook his head. I stepped forward a little, until the front of my shoulder touched the back of his arm, so he would know I was there, and was with him in this.

               The corners of my eyes stung as Curtis blew out a big breath through puffed cheeks.

               “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your daughter is dead.”

               The iron that had been holding the older man’s back straight drained away, and he aged visibly in the space of a heartbeat. Around him, his family dissolved into wails of sorrow.

               “We know who did this!” the child’s mother screamed. “It was him! We knew he would hurt her. We knew!”

               The girl’s father looked at my face for a moment, and then turned towards the wall. “My daughter was a gift from God,” he said. “Now God has taken her back.”

               I called our main office to have a victim services counsellor attend the hospital, while Curtis explained as much to the family as he could. When we’d done all we were allowed, we turned to go, and leave the family to their grief.

               Before I could leave the room, the child’s mother lunged at me, seizing my face in her hands.

               “My daughter still needs you,” she shouted, her voice growing in both pitch and volume. “Don’t leave her!” She stood on her toes and pulled my face down until our noses were almost touching. “Please, I beg you, bring me vengeance!”

               As her husband gathered her up and pulled her away, I could offer no answer. I didn’t have enough breath to speak. I could only nod and keep my teeth together as I followed Curtis from the room.

               In the years between then and now I have carried that girl’s ghost and borne the burden of my own grief over her death. Justice has been done for her and her family – although the thirst for vengeance will have to remain unfulfilled – and I hope with that justice we can all find a measure of peace.

               In all my years as a street cop, I have never had anything affect me as deeply as that girl’s death. I did not know her, but I feel, strangely, as though I have grown to love her. I will gladly carry her memory, because it is a constant reminder of how dear the cost of anger and violence can be, but I hope, by telling her story, that her ghost will leave me be.

The End

As you walk through the hard miles in your life, remember that it is better to let something out than to hold it in. And there is always someone on the other end of that page who will be interested in hearing what you have to say.

As always, thanks for reading.


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Discipline Vs Inspiration; or, My Muse is Drunk and Stole the Inspiration Bus.

The last year has been rough and the words have been scarce. I often say in my blog posts (the last of which was 327 days ago…so long that I forgot what it means to rant in the internet) that my life is no harder than anyone else’s, but I’m not sure that has been true over the last year.

To be fair, there have been highs and lows. The highs have been really fucking high, but the lows have been pretty abysmal.

There have been three profound events that have robbed me of my free time and killed my creativity.

First, I got separated and ended my marriage. It’s a long story which I might talk about publicly one day (as in, for the entire internet to see), but today is not that day. Suffice to say, it sucked. I believe it was the right call, but regardless of my belief it was one of the most difficult, emotional things I have ever done and there was not much room in my head to think about the stories I was going to write when the story of my life had taken such a new and dramatic direction.

Second, my mother was hospitalized with a deadly serious illness. To compound that little adventure, she had sold her town-house and then lost the purchase of her new condo because of her hospitalization. I had to find her housing, pack all her shit and move her into a new place while trying to ensure she was all right physically.

Finally, one of my oldest and dearest friends, my Godmother, Brenda, died of a very aggressive form of lung cancer. Her passing was so dramatic and so sudden that there was no time to prepare for it. In the beginning of July she went in to see her doctor with what she thought was a lung infection. The doc scanned her chest, found nothing worth worrying about and sent her home with a prescription for anti-biotics. Two weeks later when she felt worse despite the meds and bed rest, she went back for another chest scan. This time the doctor told her she had an inoperable mass on her lung and she was going to die. A week later she was gone. As the executor of her will I have been working on managing her estate, which is another story I might tell one day, but not today. Let me just say this: if anyone ever asks you to be an executor, tell them to fuck right off.

Along with these lows, I had some pretty dramatic highs, all of which consumed a lot of energy. I started a new relationship with a fantastic girl (yes, I got divorced and started a new relationship, go ahead and get your judgement on and draw your own conclusions, I don’t much care).

I also got promoted to sergeant and started a new job; I am now responsible for a team of about twenty people who police a large section of a metropolitan city. My job is a combination of social work, baby-sitting (“Uncle Ty! So-and-so said I was a poopy head!), urban warfare and an old hard-boiled detective novel (It was a dark and stormy night, and the body had been lying in a small, warm apartment for about three weeks). I love it, but it is taxing.

On another high note, my second novel, “Dark Resolution” was released by my publisher, Dark Dragon Publishing (www.darkdragonpublishing.com) And you know what? It’s a good book. It is by far the best thing I have ever written and I am proud of it. And it sold about fifty copies (I felt kind of like I built a really complex, beautiful paper airplane and threw it in the air expecting it to soar – instead it did a nose dive and crashed…and inexplicably caught on fire). With everything else going on in my existence I have done just this side of zero promotion for the story. I haven’t even put the goddamned thing up on my website.

All of this whining is to say, I wrote almost nothing all year. Between the end of October and the end of July I amassed about 7000 words; which amounts to not much more than a fucking fart in the wind when you’re a novelist.

I was actually at the point where I considered giving up writing; I talked about writing, I thought about writing, I told myself “you should write something, you lazy fuck” over and over again. But when I had free time, I used it to look at the Chive, or Twitter, or watch television – pretty much any activity that wasn’t sitting down at my computer and cranking some words out. I didn’t even blog (hence the fact that I have not posted anything for 327 days), and it’s rare indeed for me to not want to rant about something.

While I busy not writing, I kept saying to myself “I’ll write when I get inspired.” I had this vain belief that if I waited long enough, inspiration would fall upon me like creative rains from heaven and I would suddenly start producing words again. While I was waiting, I gave myself over completely to sloth and watched a lot of re-runs of “Yukon Gold” (I don’t know what it is, but I am obsessed with that show).

I did nothing. Nothing. And while I did nothing I convinced myself that I would one day start again. Then I did some more nothing.

On July 20th, I was tooling through my phone, busily doing nothing (maybe I was sitting on the toilet, I’m not sure), when I saw a tweet from Delilah S Dawson (https://twitter.com/delilahsdawson), inviting people to ask her “ungoogleable” questions about writing. I, of course, being an indolent fuck who was looking for another excuse to not write, asked what I needed to use to bribe my muse to get her to stop ignoring me.

In truth, I didn’t really expect an answer (I imagined that Delilah had actual sensible questions about writing that she would sooner answer). Second, if I did get an answer, I expected it to be something whimsical and indistinct. Something about pulling inspiration out of the ether, perhaps. Instead I got a concise, oddly helpful, response: I don’t believe in Muses. I believe in getting words down on paper, even if they suck.

I sat, and blinked, and stared at that almost immediate response for…well…a lot longer than I probably should have.

Delilah posted another tweet a few minutes later: If the bus is at the stop, you get on the bus. If you wait and the bus doesn’t come, you just start walking.

This, too, I stared at. For a long time.

Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that me sitting on my ass, doing a whole lot of nothing, was the equivalent of me waiting for transport that would never, ever come. The divine bus of inspiration was on another route and wouldn’t be stopping for me any time soon. My Muse, if there is such a thing, was on that bus, likely drunk, and had forgotten all about me. If I wanted to move, I would have to do it myself.

When I looked at the novel I was working on (in truth, I have five different novels, all with 10,000 or more words completed on them, languishing on my lap-top), it seemed like a big, hairy, intimidating bastard of a thing. Write 100,000 words? Are you insane? I can barely write a fucking note! So instead I decided to work on something shorter, something that wasn’t so intimidating.

I cast about for ideas, and ultimately settled on something that didn’t require much imagination; I told myself the story of my divorce. I have always processed things by writing about them, and it occurred to me that I hadn’t really reached my own closure over that particular event, because I hadn’t been able to write about it.

Over the course of about a week, I told myself the story, putting down just about 5000 words (which is almost as many as I had completed in the entire previous year). I didn’t share it with anyone except my girlfriend, Sayeh, as she is an integral part of the story. I might share it with the world at large, one day, but not today.

The telling of the story was not a matter of inspiration, it was a matter of discipline. I told myself that I had to work on it every day, even if it was only fifty words (to be fair it was a friend/coworker/fellow story-teller, Kristen, who said to aim for fifty words a day). If I approached the keyboard with the intention to do fifty words, it seemed like an easy pull. I could do that in a little less than a minute if I was clicking on even a few cylinders, and it took all the intimidation out of the task.

Fifty words usually turned into two or three hundred, and in a week I had a story. Once I had that story told, I felt, almost, like I remembered how to write. I took the momentum I had built up and started another short story, something I figured I’d be able to submit to the Surrey International Writer’s Conference writing contest.

I am currently on day 19 of writing every day. Sometimes it’s two hundred words, sometimes it’s a thousand. I don’t worry about how much I write, only that I produce words every day. I figure that I’ll keep working on the short pieces of fiction until the contest deadline (Sept 24th), and then turn my attention back to my current novel project (the third Quinn Sullivan story). The more I write, the more stories I tell, the less intimidating that novel length work seems.

Inspiration is a finite thing – sometimes you have it and sometimes you don’t – but discipline is a thing that you can create yourself; it is a structure you can build with nothing more than your own will. Discipline is what will bring you to the page and help you put the words down while your Muse is drunk, and has driven your inspiration bus into a guard rail.

I hope your words are coming, and as always, thanks for reading.


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A Storyteller’s Stages – or – The Penmonkey wants his banana.

*note* I borrowed the term “penmonkey” from Chuck Wendig (www.terribleminds.com), and need to give him credit for it.

This post started off in my head as a rant. And while this is my blog, and I figure I can probably rant a little bit if I want to, I decided that the simple act of ranting probably won’t help my situation. I want to discuss, instead, what it means to grow in this craft.

There are many stages to this writing life, and I’ve found they can be named almost directly by the progress the storyteller – penmonkey – feels as they go through their own personal growth. The stages will differ depending on the individual, of course. Some of us labour in relative obscurity for near a decade, while other people hit it big with the first thing they’ve ever written. I, certainly, am not one of those people, and have hit every one of these stages.

Stage one: This is fucking awesome.

I thought this might just apply to me, but as I’ve met other fledgling writers I’ve learned that it is an extremely common phenomena. A lot of us, when we start out, get it into our heads that every word we shit out onto the page is pure gold. As I discussed in a previous post, Growth of Craft, I showed up at my first Surrey International Writer’s Conference with a really terrible manuscript clutched in my hot little had. When I wrote it, I thought that its awesomeness was absolutely unparalleled in the history of literature, and felt sure that publishers were going to throw buckets of money at me to claim my story as their own. I was wrong.

Stage 2: This is fucking terrible.

It was only as I learned more about writing – the craft of storytelling – that I figured out my first novel was really a steaming heap of fly-riddled dog shit. I mean it was awful. It was filled with clichés, grammatical errors, really terrible dialogue and plot lines that started off ridiculous and faded in near-invisible obscurity.

I got a little depressed, for a while, when I discovered that I was not, in fact, a writing prodigy that would soon be able to quit my day job. But it didn’t last long, as my newfound knowledge of my own fallibility hustled me along to stage 3.

Stage 3: I might suck, but I’m getting better.

After my first SiWC, I really started working at the craft. I was aware, then, that I had a long way to go, but I was making improvements. I had a couple of beta readers who gave me loving (as in – honest…brutally honest) feedback, and it made me stop doing the ridiculous shit. I moved past the clichéd stories that I thought would be popular, and started writing about the things that really spoke to me. I read a lot, and wrote a lot. I listened when people tried to help me and give me useful advice. I dropped both the idea that I was awesome and that I was absolutely terrible and just tried to write the stories that pleased myself. I wrote a lot of pages that will never see the light of day, but eventually I started producing things that were not bad; things I was willing to show to people who didn’t love me.

Stage 4: You mean…you actually want to pay me for this?

The first time I ever got paid for a story was in 2010 when I came in first runner up in the SiWC writing contest for a story called “What it Means to Bleed”. I wrote the story because I’d had a really rough year, had produced next to nothing and really needed to get some creative words down. When the deadline to the contest approached (as in…24 hours away), I sat down at my laptop and hammered out a story. I didn’t have time to agonize over whether it fit the mold I thought a story should slide into, and I just opened up that place in me where the words live and let them fire across the page (well…screen). The story was short-listed and ultimately came in second place, along with a gold-leaf certificate and a cheque for one hundred and fifty dollars.

Winning that money didn’t mean that I was suddenly going to be rich and famous, but it was a sign that I was getting better. That my writing was good enough that someone was going to pay me for it.

Stage 5: You mean…you’re actually going to Publish my schlock?

The first novel I finished that I thought was worthy of public consumption was, “The Watch”. I pitched it out to numerous people, but it wasn’t until I sent it to the folks at Dark Dragon Publishing that someone really dug the story and decided to take a chance on me. The publishing house is a small, Indy show, but we have done fairly well together.

Robert J Sawyer said in a keynote speech at SiWC that if you’re published with an independent Canadian publishing house, and you sell three hundred copies of a novel, that you’ve done something exceptional. Well, Dark Dragon and I have surpassed the three hundred copy mark (we didn’t exactly kick that mark’s ass, but we got past it), so I guess we’re doing all right.

Following the novel, I sold three other short stories to various publications (Pulp Literature Magazine, and the Nefarious North anthology among them). I started to feel like a real writer, and grew, very slowly, to believe the publication of the novel was not a complete fluke.

After the first novel came out a dear friend of mine, kc dyer, sat me down and talked to me about my writing “career”. I had never actually considered it a career, but, as she pointed out, I was now a contracted, published author who was being paid for their work. I wasn’t making a living off it, but people (and more than one) liked my stuff enough that they were willing to pay me on the regular for it.

The main lesson that kc wanted to impart on me was this: “Your time and your work are valuable, so don’t give it away for free.”

I didn’t realize, then, exactly what she meant, but I have an idea now.

Stage 6: Uh…maybe I don’t suck.

There were two galvanizing events that lead me to the belief that I don’t completely suck. First, my publisher accepted my second novel, and agreed to publish it (I’ve read, statistically, that most first time authors never have a second book and drop from the writing life after their first novels are published). It was a big deal for me to take that second big step, and I was damned proud when the people at Dark Dragon agreed to publish my second novel, “Dark Resolution”, and I signed the contract for it.

The second big event, that almost knocked me on my ass from the sheer shock of it, was when someone contacted me and asked if I would be interested in submitting a story to a new mystery magazine called “Sleuth”. One of the editors had read my first book and liked it enough to reach out to me and ask me to submit a piece. It was the first time that someone had actually sought me out for my writing and I was thrilled. I submitted a story called “The Coffin Was Cold”, and they accepted it, had me sign a contract, and paid me their standard rate.

Once again, I was not made rich, nor made famous, but I felt like my work had real value – that people wanted to read my stuff. I was no longer begging people to have a look at my shitty stories. They were actually voluntarily reading them because – presumably – they didn’t suck.

Stage 7: The penmonkey wants his damned banana. (Here comes the rant)

Since the talk with kc dyer, I have always carefully considered the value of my work. I am not so arrogant to believe that everything I write is publishable. I have both completed novels and a couple dozen short stories that will likely never get picked up by anyone for the simple fact they really are not very good. But the stuff that I’ve written that has been published is really all right…I might even go so far as to say that some of my words are damned good (I could be wrong, but they’re my stories and I love them).

I am not at a stage in my writing “career” where I think I am going to be a bestseller, or that people should throw buckets of money at me, but I want to be paid for my stuff. As John Scalzi said in his article ‘A Note to You, Should You Be Thinking of Asking Me to Write For You For Free’ – “Fuck you, Pay me”.

As the release of my second novel, “Dark Resolution” looms on the horizon, I have been talking more about my work and doing a little self-promotion. I really dig it when people ask me about my work, but it pisses me off when they want me to give it away for free.

I have been approached, several times, in the last few weeks and had conversations similar to this (either in person, or via some kind of electronic medium):

Person: “Hi.”

Me: “Hi.”

Person: “So you wrote a book, right?”

Me: “Yes, two in fact.”

Person: “Cool. How do I get a copy of it?”

Me: *sends them a link for Amazon* “The ebooks are on sale right now for .99 cents.”

Person: “Oh…so I have to pay for it?”

Me: “Uh…”

Person: “You can’t just give me one?”

No. No, I can’t just give you one. My publisher does not give me an endless supply of free books. They’re a small house and they have to cover their costs so, you know, they can eat and stuff, and I have to pay for the copies I get for my own use.

If another author approaches me and says, “Hey, let’s trade books and then talk about them,” my response; Fuck yeah, great idea.

If someone approaches me, asking for a book for a charity auction or a door prize at a writing related function? Fuck yeah. In fact, take two.

My dearest, closest friends who have loved me and supported me while I’ve gone through the various stages of this writing life want to read my book? Fuck yeah. I have a copy set aside with your name on it.

But someone who has never been to my house or had a meaningful conversation with me in over a decade says “Hey, we used to be friends so give me your books for free,”?

Fuck no. The penmonkey wants his goddamned banana.

As a writer – a storyteller – both your work and your time is valuable. It takes years and countless hours hammering away at your craft to build yourself up to a point where you are producing work worth reading. When you reach that point where you should be getting paid for your work (whether it’s a $32 hardcover or a .99 cent ebook), don’t let people convince you to give it away for free.

You matter, your work matters, and you shouldn’t be told different.

As always, thanks for reading.


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Words aren’t enough

The world is full of tough guys, or, at least, guys who want you to think they’re tough.

In my work-life as a street cop I see a lot of swagger, a lot of bravado. I’ve encountered a lot of men, young and old, both clients and coworkers, who feel it necessary to puff themselves up and tell you about how hard they’ll be to take down, about how far they’ll go and what they’ll do when pushed.

There is an immutable truth about “tough guys” that my old man was fond of quoting: If you have to tell people how tough you are, you ain’t that tough.

Piss and wind, which seems to be the primary composition of these blustery individuals, doesn’t carry you very far when the time for talking is over. Sometimes words are only worth so much, and when you run out you find yourself short-changed.

In this case, “short changed” means “bleeding.”

One of the most dangerous men I’d ever encountered did not have to utter a word about himself for you to know he could hurt you. He was grey-haired, in his fifties, about 5’9” and looked like he was made up of rebar and old iron filings. He had a lot of old, faded, almost unidentifiable military style tattoos, and his nose looked like it had been broken half a dozen times I had about fifteen minutes on the force, and had only been riding on my own for a few weeks, when I was called upon to arrest him because he’d done something silly.

My first ever road-boss, Roger, had told me, very seriously, when I first started my career, “Always be polite, Ty. Be nice as long as you can, and when the time for kindness is over, get mean as hell.”

I remembered this lesson as I looked at this wiry man, who was four inches shorter and forty pounds lighter than I was. I was generally very confident in my physical ability, but as I looked at him the spark of cop’s instinct that was just beginning to grow in my thick skull whispered to me, I don’t think you can take him.

“I’m sorry, sir,” I said, reaching my hand up to my radio to call for help. “But you’re under arrest.” When he didn’t immediately fight or flee, I lowered my hand from my radio, and swallowed my unreasonable fear. I explained to him why I was there, and why I believed I had the lawful authority to arrest him. I expressed that I understood his side, but also told him that this issue wasn’t going to go away and he needed to accompany me and go before the courts to answer for the charge. I didn’t puff myself up, or start yelling, or make vague threats that I wasn’t sure I could follow through on. I used my words economically, so I didn’t give myself an opportunity to say anything stupid, and treated him with as much dignity and professionalism as I could.

He looked at me for several heartbeats, quite obviously taking my measure, and said, “All right, son. Thank you for being so polite.” Then he turned around and allowed me to handcuff him. As I got close to him, the air of subdued menace got thicker, and there was no question in my mind that I was only arresting him successfully because he was allowing it to happen.

During the drive to the cell block, and the subsequent booking in process, I learned that he had not always been as he was then. He was a Vietnam war veteran, and had been part of a “Unit” for the United states army. He did not want really want to discuss himself, and would only say, “I was one of those idiots who jumped out of perfectly good airplanes.” When I asked him why he, who was born in Canada, would join the American army, he shrugged. “It seemed like an important job that needed do, so I went and did it.”

Before I closed the door on his cell, he insisted on shaking my hand, and telling me, “I know you’re just doing your job, like I was doing mine, but I appreciate your kindness, and your courtesy.” With my hand in his grip it became apparent, again, that he was only in my custody because he chose to be, and my courtesy probably saved me from a losing fight.

He did not have to tell me he was tough; that fact was very clear to me without him saying a word.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been reading my friend, Michael R Fletcher’s novel, “Beyond Redemption”. As I read it, I have been thinking about that old encounter, so many years ago, and the lessons I have carried away from it. I’ve realized those lessons, gleaned from the taciturn war veteran who could have probably kicked my ass, apply readily to my writing life.

Michael’s writing story is dark, but there is a power in it that you don’t often find in modern fantasy novels. The writing is spare, told in only enough words – the right words – for you to keenly feel the deeper emotion of the story; the anger of some characters, the desperation of others, the keen hurt they feel at the rank betrayal perpetrated against them. The story does not give over to wordiness or excess, yet conveys its message, and its fantastical setting, with an elegant brutality.

Michael has figured out how to tell a compelling story without wasting any time trying to bullshit you into believing it’s compelling, much like the man I’d encountered who told me all I needed to know about his mettle without saying a word.

In my experience the men who talk the loudest about all the things they’re going to do are the ones who are the most terrified. The same goes for storytelling. Using a two dollar word (one it is obvious you pulled out of a thesaurus) where a nickel will do is like a street cop who says, “or else” at the end of a command; the bad guy knows you’re full of shit, and so will your reader.

The wordy ridiculousness, the literary equivalent of the sloppy drunk in front of the local bar yelling at someone and threatening to kick an ass while holding his friend’s arm across his chest to make it appear he’s being held back, has no place in good storytelling.

You can’t fake emotion in your writing with five syllable words. Sometimes you have to cut deep into your blackest vein and let your concealed darkness spill out onto your page.

Sometimes words aren’t enough. Sometimes you have to give your story a little more.

As always, thanks for reading.

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How A Stack Of Iron Saved My Life

When I was about fifteen years old I saved up enough money to buy my first weight set, consisting of one of those rickety Weider benches, a couple of iron bars, and a hundred pounds in crumbling, concrete-filled vinyl weights.

I was a short, fat, socially awkward kid who spent the majority of my time watching the Arnold Schwarzenegger version of Conan, reading fantasy novels and writing really terrible short stories. I was often bullied, and I thought that if I looked like Conan I would suddenly become popular and receive less ass kickings.

I had absolutely zero athletic ability, but I hassled my mother for a copy of Muscle and Fitness every time we went to the grocery store and, very gradually, figured out what I was doing. As I got a little older, and a little bit stronger, I once again saved up my nickels and dimes and bought a pass to an actual gym, with weights that didn’t fall apart and puff grey dust in your eyes. I was also lucky enough to meet a couple of older guys who were willing to point me in the right direction and stop me from dropping a barbell on my head and killing myself.

When I left home and started a career in law enforcement, the necessity for fitness quickly became much more urgent. Instead of scuffling with other kids in the high-school hallway because they thought it was fun to beat up the fat kid, I found myself fighting with grown men, who were often under the influence of illegal stimulants. Sometimes, I discovered, these men (and occasionally women) were more than willing to kill me if it meant they wouldn’t have to go to jail for the night. My life was cheaper to them than the last dime-bag of crack they had purchased, and no one was going to be responsible for my survival but myself.

I always took my lifting seriously, but despite all my time spent in the gym, I remained somewhat uneducated. I spent a lot of time doing things I didn’t need to and ate a lot of crap food. Then, about a year ago, a friend pointed me in the direction of a man named Jim Stoppani, and his one of his training programs, Shortcut to Size.

I started the program and I took it seriously. I didn’t skip any workouts, I didn’t miss any meals, I followed Doctor Stoppani’s word as though it were a sacred gospel and I had phenomenal results. By the time I reached the end of the program, I was lifting more weight, moving more iron, than I ever thought possible. Then, one morning at about 0500 hours, the program saved my life.

I was eleven weeks into the program and was working my last night shift. It was one of those nights where my crew was running short, and at 5am there was only two of us working in my district. Just before sun-up, we got a panicky 9-1-1 call from a man screaming into the phone that someone had broken into his house. I, along with my lone constable working with me, scooted over to the scene as quickly as I could.

We found a very frightened family barricading themselves behind a door that had been kicked off its hinges. Once I convinced them we were the police, and not their attacker coming back for another try, they opened the door and told us they had all been awoken from a dead sleep when a man had broken down their door and stormed into their house. As they were giving their gibbering, terrified account, the family’s eldest daughter’s eyes grew wide and she pointed into the street.

“That’s him,” she said. “That’s the man who was in our house!”

I turned to see a wiry man walking briskly towards us, carrying a soccer ball (I don’t know why he was carrying a soccer ball, so don’t ask). Against all reason, he was walking straight towards us. I stepped away from the family and across their lawn to confront the man. As I got close, it became very obvious that he had been using a large quantity of some manner of stimulating street drug; he was twitchy, erratic, shouting incoherently, and was not the least bit concerned about me or my uniform.

I stepped in front of the man, who was walking directly towards the terrified family, and said, “You’re under arrest for break and enter, turn around and put your hands behind your back.”

He stopped and looked at me for the first time, then dropped the soccer ball. He gave a weird little screech and turned away from me while he reached into the pocket of his dirty coat and pulled frantically at an object, trying to get it out.

Any street cop will tell you that if you’re trying to arrest someone and they reach suddenly for an item in their pocket, it’s never good.

I saw just a glint of something shiny in the twitchy man’s struggling hand and I jumped on him. I believed, with absolute clarity, that anything he pulled out of his pocket would probably be the death of me. I latched onto his arm and tried to control it, but moving the man, despite the fact I had at least thirty pounds on him, was like trying to move a cement block. His arm was as rigid and unyielding as a piece of re-bar, and it was all I could do to shove him towards the side of my nearby car. My partner jumped on his back and tried to pin him down, but even with both of us on top of him he was still able to stand up and we had next to no control.

The struggle was ugly, desperate and extremely violent. I couldn’t get my hand up to my radio to call for help, and I didn’t have the space to reach for any of my tools. It all came down to a simple question: What was stronger; Me, or the drugs in the guy’s system.

Ultimately it turned out to be me. By the end of the struggle, we got the guy in handcuffs, but all three of us were bleeding, and I was gassed. My hands and forearms were throbbing from trying to hang on to the guy, and the fragrant blend of stress, adrenaline and fatigue had the muscles in my legs, back and arms shaking.

Apparently, during the struggle, the mic on my radio keyed and all our dispatcher could hear was scrabbling and muffled yells. She sent another member from a different district, and when he arrived he helped us search our new friend and shove him into the back seat of a patrol car. When I searched that pocket the guy had be reaching for so intently, I found a very long, very sharp, kitchen knife. As I looked down at the knife in my hand I could only think that if he had gotten it out he would have killed me, or I would have had to shoot him. Either way, it was an outcome I didn’t want to contemplate.

It took Carla and I several hours to finish the paperwork necessary to bring the accused before the courts, and during that time I did contemplate all the possible outcomes that might have resulted from the encounter. If I hadn’t been quite as strong as I was, or had the same level of endurance, or had the fortitude to keep fighting, the consequences would have certainly been life altering, if not life ending – and not just for me, but for my partner and the frightened people who were standing behind me.

I felt, in those moments, like I owed my life to Jim Stoppani; him and all those stacks of iron I’d moved.

In the days since that confrontation I’ve walked into the gym with a different attitude. Because of my profession, every workout I do could be the last one before I have to fight for my life, and I’ve kept that in mind with every pound I slide on the bar.

No matter what you do for a living, whether you’re a street cop or a storyteller, I would encourage you to keep your body strong, and make your fitness a priority. You never know how deep you’re going to have to dig to save a life.

As always, thanks for reading.


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New Words, Old Memories

Before I was a writer, I was a reader; just like every other writer on the planet. My parents, while not particularly educated people, were voracious readers, and I think that’s a trait that was both nature and nurture. There was never a time when there was not a book, usually marked with either a matchbook cover or a page torn out of the T.V. Guide (let thee not dog-ear the pages of a book to mark it, lest thee be beaten within a half inch of thy life) on the arm of my Dad’s easy chair. It always seemed to me, in my six-year-old imagination, that those books were friends, who were patiently waiting at my old man’s elbow to be picked up and carry on an important conversation.

I was not a particularly smart kid, but in a house so well inhabited by books, I could not help but emulate my parents and read with a healthy appetite. Reading was a habit that was rewarded, and in a time when we did not have a lot of money, my old man was always willing to take me to the second hand bookstore and reach into the pocket of his battered Levis to spend fifty cents or a dollar on a book I fancied.

As I grew, my reading habits changed and it was a significant rite of passage – in my own mind, anyway – when my old man handed me one of his own books to read.

I was eight or nine years old, and had just finished tearing through the most recent middle grade book I’d pulled from the thrift store shelves, and was standing in front of the shelf built into the wall of our living room reserved for my Dad’s books. I was running my finger over the wide, crinkled, paperback spines – or the less plentiful glossy hardcovers – when my old man stood behind me.

“You need something to read, squirt?” he asked. (He addressed me as squirt, even when I had four inches and ninety pounds on him.)

I shrugged, in the non-committal way pre-teen children do when addressed with a question they’re not sure about; I wanted to read one of my Dad’s books, but they were all so thick, and intimidating. I imagined the conversations with those books would be in voices so deep I’d be unable to comprehend the meaning.

My Dad crossed his wiry arms, then rubbed a nicotine stained finger across his stubbly chin. Finally, he reached to the top shelf and pulled green book out of a tightly-packed row. The spine was so bent, folded into nearly a crescent shape, that it was illegible, but the cover said “Eyes of the Dragon”, and below that, “Stephen King”.

“Try this one,” my Dad said as he handed to me. “And if you tell your mother I gave it to you, I’ll kick your ass ‘til your head rattles.”

I clutched the book to my chest like a golden prize, or perhaps a game winning football. I felt as though I’d been handed a one way ticket to a promised land, like an invitation to move from the kiddie table at Christmas dinner and sit with the adults. I scuttled into my room, switched on my bed-side lamp, and opened the crackly spine and began to turn the frayed, yellow pages.

I finished that book in a handful of days, reading every moment that was not engaged with something vitally important. After I finished that book, I replaced it (with the aid of a short stool), and pulled out the next one in line. Within a year I’d torn through every Stephen King title on the shelf with enough understanding that I could talk to my Dad about his favourite books. “The Shining” was his favourite, maybe because he’d struggled with alcohol the same way Jack Torrance did (my old man referred to himself as an alcoholic, although was “on the wagon”, so to speak, and never had a drink in my lifetime). Regardless of the title, we would always read it, one after the other, and then discuss it, weighing whether it was Stephen’s best book or his worst, and anxiously await the next one.

Since then, I have always associated Stephen King with my father. They were nothing alike, except that they were from the same generation (born a few months apart) and both liked scary stories, but I could not think of King without thinking of my Dad. Even long after I’d grown up and moved away from home, whenever I walked through a bookstore, and saw the latest King title, I could not help but think fondly of my old man.

At the end of my Dad’s life, he was very ill. In the months before his passing he was in so much pain, that exhausting kind of pain that leaves you energy for nothing other than being miserable, that he didn’t even have the strength to hold up a book. I think it was when he stopped reading that I knew my father was going to die.

When my mother called me and told me he’d been taken to the hospital by ambulance, I knew the end had arrived. I had bought him a copy of “Doctor Sleep”, a sort-of sequel to “The Shining”, and it was sitting on a shelf in my living room, waiting for the next time I saw him. I picked up the book and dropped it on the back seat of my truck, thinking that if he didn’t have the energy to read, perhaps he would have the energy to listen.

When I arrived at the hospital (several hours after I left my house), I found that he was past the point of listening. He was not yet gone, but within an hour of my arrival he had shuffled off this mortal coil. At one point, during the final moments of his life, I was alone with my Dad while my mother was making a couple of calls, and my wife was holding her arm to keep her upright.

As I watched my Dad, alive but uncomprehending, I realized I still had “Doctor Sleep” in my hand. I had already said the things I needed to say to him, told him the things I needed him to know, and in order to fill the silence in that small hospital room, I opened the book, leaned close, and read him the first page.

The first page is as far as I got, because my wife and my mother returned, and the end followed swiftly behind them.

When I returned to my own home, I put “Doctor Sleep” back on its spot on the shelf and didn’t touch it again. It has been over a year since my father’s death, and I have looked at that book countless times, but I have not been able to pick it up. I felt like there some kind of connection between that book and my Dad, and if I were pick it up and read it the connection would be gone. Lost forever.

It was my Dad’s birthday a couple of weeks ago, and he has been on my mind a lot. I have missed him every day since his death, but his birthday, for whatever odd reason, hit me harder than any other day, and I have felt a distinct ache in the center of me that nothing will soothe.

Last night I was standing in front of my bookshelf, scanning my “to be read” pile, finding nothing I was particularly interested in. I picked up a couple different books, read the first few pages, and then put them back, because nothing was hitting quite right. As my gaze wandered, and I grew more frustrated, my eyes landed on “Doctor Sleep”.

I looked at it a long time before I finally picked it up.

I sat on the couch, beside my wife, opened the book and began to read. While I had previously believed the magic in that book lived in its unexplored mystery – the beginning of the final thing I would ever share with my Dad – I quickly realized the wonder in that book was between the pages. The story, in itself is not magical – it is not a bout of brilliance that exceeds any other book that Stephen King has ever written – but it is familiar. And it is that familiarity that makes it magic.

Between the lines of script, I see my Dad. I hear his voice. I feel the rumble of his laughter in the story’s subtle jokes. In the picture of Stephen King on the back cover, I see a ghost image of my father, and it makes my heart glad. I am happy, now, to be reading this book. It makes me feel a little closer to my Dad’s memory; the last thing we are able to share.

As I read the story, I cannot help but think of my own, often neglected, storytelling. I have been doing well, lately, with my own work; an agreement has been reached with my publisher for my second novel, and I’m currently working on the first, heavy round of edits. But, as I experience “Doctor Sleep”, and through its pages feel so close to my Dad, I feel as though I should be doing more.

It is not just this singular story that has given me this experience- it is the greater body of Stephen King’s work that made me feel close to my Dad when I was a kid, and keeps me close to him now. Is it reasonable for me to hope that I, too, will one day effect someone the way that Stephen King is currently effecting me?

I suppose the hope is reasonable, but the actual doing of it will take a lot of work.

As always, thanks for reading.


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The Three Hardest Words

A number of years ago, I was sitting in the audience when Jack Whyte gave the Saturday night keynote speech at the Surrey International Writer’s Conference.

Dressed in his regimental colours (of the Calgary Highlanders), Jack asked us, “What are the three hardest words in the English Language?”

I love you,” the audience said in unison.

“No,” Jack replied. “The three hardest words are, ‘Some Assembly Required.’”

He went on to explain that (and I’m paraphrasing here), that some people, most people, are not willing to work for things anymore. When things get difficult or inconvenient, whether it be storytelling, or writing, or love, the most common response is to give the inconvenient thing the toss and go do something else.

I have been thinking a lot about those three words, lately, and now they apply to me – how they apply to my writing life, especially.

2014 was a hard year for me. I lost my dearest, oldest and closest friend: my Dad. I got rejected, a lot, both in my law enforcement career and my writing career. And while I had some successes, I was very much focused on my defeats and losses.

I have good friends, and they encouraged me to look at the bright side of life and focus on the good things, not the bad. But I was locked in a bit of a funk and roundly ignored any good advice I was given, choosing, instead to focus on everything I had lost (or not quite achieved). I kept telling myself, “Tomorrow I’ll get some work done,” or “next week I’ll set aside some serious writing time.” I think the main crux of my issue was that I’d lost belief in myself; when I kept hearing “No” all the time, I got to a point where I didn’t believe that anyone would ever say “Yes.” I grew convinced that I was destined to never get anything that I wanted, ever again.

I had a bit of a wakeup call when, at work, I was sitting in my boss, Mike’s office, lamenting about all the things that I hadn’t achieved. My act must have been getting a bit old, because Mike was slumped in his chair, and had an expression on his face that suggested he might want to plug his ears, when he leaned forward and fixed me with a glare.

“You gotta stop being so fucking dramatic, man,” he said. I sat, my mouth hanging open, his unexpected exasperation completely interrupting my litany of complaints.

“This shit’ll happen,” he continued. “You just gotta keep working at it. No one is going to hand you anything unless you keep going after it. And you’re not going to get after anything if you’re too busy whining.” Then he turned away from me, back to his computer screen.

I slouched my way out of his office, feeling wounded and ill-used. I had originally slunk into Mike’s office for encouragement, and soothing, and maybe a little pat on the back and an “atta-boy”. I had not gone to be criticized or labelled as a whiner.

As the day wore on, I thought more and more about what Mike had said. Was I, in fact, too busy whining to get anything done? Had I become so focused on being pissed off about what I didn’t have that I had forgotten how to work? The only conclusion I could come to was, yes. Yes I had.

There are a few places I go when seeking inspiration, and one of them is Chuck Wendig’s website: www.terribleminds.com. I had a look at one of his recent blogs, entitled: Arting Hard Like An Artful Motherfucker: 25 Ways To Be A Bad-Ass Maker Who Makes Bad-Ass Stuff.

I’d encourage you to read the entire post yourself, but the line that got to me the most was this: Stop praising the future for its opportunity and start seizing the power of the present. Fuck “one day.” You have this day. Do not squander it.

I thought about that line for a fair piece of time. Then I paired it up with my boss’s words. I had come to realize that I really was too busy whining about what hadn’t gone my way to look at the things that had. I was too busy thinking about all the work I would do and the stories I would tell “one day”, to plant my ass at my desk and get busy right now. I was squandering my time and had become terribly fearful of the words, Some Assembly Required.

I was still brooding, trying to figure out what I was going to do with my pseudo-revelation, when a letter, like an actual snail-mail letter, appeared at my house. It was from my publisher, and it was a contract.

I had sent in my second novel, a sequel to “The Watch”, a few months ago, and had been so busy being pissed off about a bunch of other things that I’d forgotten to be hopeful. That hope returned, suddenly, as I read the publishing offer.

The work, the hours of toil, and editing, and wailing and gnashing of teeth had produced a story, and someone liked that story enough that they wanted to give me money for it. I had assembled that bastard and now it was going to be read.

That hope was dented slightly when I realized there was much more work ahead of me. But the time for whining was done, and the time to get after it had arrived. There was no “one day”, there was only this day, and I could not afford to squander it.

No matter what we go after in our lives, we really do have to work at it. Stories don’t magically appear, they have to be built. Some assembly really is required. And it’s time to get to work.

As always, thanks for reading.


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A Season Of Loss

When I was a kid, Christmas was a big deal in my house. My mother was an overt Christmas lover; she would hang the first decorations about the same time as the first snow fell, Boney M Christmas music would rattle through our stereo by the first of December, and the dog would walk around, extremely depressed, with a pair of plush reindeer antlers strapped to her head.

My Dad, on the other hand, was a very subtle Christmas nut. He professed to hate Christmas Music (“Oh, for Christ’s sake, would you turn that shit off!?), hate the decorations, (“One more goddamned thing for me to hit my head on!”) and felt a pang of sympathy for the dog (“Take those things off, you’re gonna give her a complex!”). But we somehow, always, every year, found ourselves watching It’s A Wonderful Life, at least once during the Christmas season, and every time my father went into a store in the week before the 25th, he left with a robust “Merry Christmas!”

When I was about twelve years old, and searching the bookshelves for something to read around Christmas, my Dad produced a musty, moth-eaten copy of Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. He insisted I read it, as it was “a real Christmas Story”, and then sat me down to watch the Alastair Sim version of the movie.

My father was not a man of religion, in fact he deeply mistrusted the motivations of any religion, (“You don’t have to go to church to be nice to people, for Christ’s Sake,) but he liked the idea that we could “Set aside a couple of days a year when people stop being assholes.”

As I grew up, I absorbed the Christmas observances of both my parents. In an image of my mother I like Christmas music, Christmas movies (My friends and I would watch this scene about a dozen times every year and nearly piss our pants), and ugly Christmas sweaters. But from my Dad I got a more subtle love and a deeper thought about the Christmas season, and what it’s really supposed to mean.

This is the first year I’ve had to think about Christmas without my Dad, and to tell the truth, I’m having a hard go of it.

This year, since my Dad’s death in January, has been a year of tough firsts. Each “special” occasion has been the first time I’ve had to do it without my old man around, and it has put a little crack in my heart. Every instance carries a certain weight, but the arrival of Christmas has gotten especially heavy, and I’ve had a bit of a “Fuck Christmas” vibe for the last month; I didn’t help my wife decorate the tree, I haven’t watched a single movie, and the only time I wore a bad sweater there was alcohol involved.

I was having a full-on grumpy Grinch moment this morning, when my wife and I went into a grocery store. The staff were all wearing Christmas hats, every aisle and stall was decorated in eye-woundingly bright decorations, and there was Christmas music piping through the speakers. It occurred to me that Christmas might have taken a fairly significant dump in that store, and I felt like the next idiot who wished me a ‘Merry Christmas’ might get a finger in the eye.

Then, as we got towards the back of the produce department, the music got increasingly louder. I was looking up at the speakers, my face obviously creased in annoyance, when I realized the music wasn’t coming from any sound system. In the back of the store, gliding softly among the broccoli and mangos, was a tall man in his early sixties, wearing blue jeans and a carefully combed Elvis-esq hairstyle, playing a fiddle. As we approached, he began playing “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen”, which was one of those rare songs my old man had enjoyed.

I reached into my pocket to fish around for change to throw into his pot, or fiddle case, or what have you, but as I looked around I didn’t find any kind of receptacle. The guy saw me digging and looking, then tipped me a wink as his fingers flew over the strings and he sashayed around a couple of grey haired women who fanned themselves and fluttered their eyelashes.

The fiddle dude wasn’t playing for money, or charity, or anything else. He was playing because he dug Christmas, and he had a song for us.

I’m not going to tell you that this man’s song melted the ice in my cracked heart, cause I still miss my Dad and don’t have much inclination to celebrate Christmas without him. But after a day of thinking about that old guy and his fiddle, I am feeling just a touch less Grinchy. If that dude can come out on a rainy Saturday and play me a song just for the sake of the playing, then I think there might be a little space left for a few more Christmas stories, both mine and others.

I hope your Christmas is merry, and if you don’t have to work (like I and my team do), that you’ve got some family(both blood-relations and those you picked yourself) to tell you some stories.

As always, thanks for reading.

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