Who do you think you are?

Do you know who you are? What’s your genealogy? Who are your people? Where did your family originate?

Do you know, or do you think you know?

I write books and teach history, which is either a blessing or a curse depending on your perspective. In the case of writing, it’s mostly a joy. In the case of teaching history, also a joy.

But knowing history? That’s something entirely different. I read constantly, and yet, I’m still surprised by the inhumanity that existed– and still exists. Conversely, I find great kindness and love in the strangest places, often related in small historical accounts of greatness in the face of what we can only call pure evil. Therein lies the challenge of history, and by extension, the love of it, too.

Sometimes, we think we know our family. It’s a curious mix of truth and myth, not unlike history in the wider sense. Case in point- my handwriting is almost identical to that of my father, although he’s right handed and I’m a lefty. I’m tall like him, laugh like him, and even speak in the same syntax. I have the same skillet-shaped hands, and yet–

I look like my mother, and look exactly like my grandfather.  I’m fortunate in that my family tends to be the saving kind, squirreling away photos from a time when sepia tones, hats, and ladies in pearls were the norm.

My grandfather was a big band leader in the 1930s, but then he was called away to war. Everyone was called away for that horror show, and yet, in the midst of it, his people– my people– managed to survive, mostly, and return home to a very different world.

Maybe my age is showing, but to my students, those pictures are history. To me, it’s where I came from, and who I am. It’s who my son will be, and perhaps his children.

I think that’s why it’s important to save the past, because a simple glimpse tells us that it isn’t the past at all. It’s now, it’s us. It’s who we are and where we’ve been, and something to show our children, drawing a line between the distant horizon and the possibilities ahead of them.

I think it’s worth saving, so I will.

Cancer took another friend.

Cancer– the scourge of our lifetime– took Dr. Lloyd Elliott this week. He was fifty, he was our family veterinarian, and he was a rare individual.

My wife and I love our animals. We regard our relationship with them as a kind of covenant, and Dr. Elliott was a huge part of our lives for the past sixteen years. He was kind, intelligent, patient, and gifted. He was empathic. He was a friend. He took care of our pets in health, and helped usher them on when disease and age made their lives unbearable.

He was with us on the very best of days, and on the worst as well. He cried with us, cheered with us, and cared for our friends as if they were his own. On the last day of Bernadette’s life, my Great Dane was too weak to walk. She weighed two hundred pounds, but Dr. Elliott met me at the car and helped us into the hospital, where she would take her last breath as we all cried, missing her even as her spirit left the room.

Dr. Elliott was– and is– a special human, and I will miss him. I cannot fathom what his family is enduring. I buried my Mother due to cancer, as well as my Nana, my Aunt, and my Grandfather. It’s a ruthless, implacable and capricious killer and I hate it with all of my heart. We lose good and great people to it, and through it all, wonder who is next.

I hope and pray that Dr. Elliott’s family can, in time, find some measure of peace. What do you say? I don’t know. I didn’t even know what to say when my own mother died, how can I articulate the loss for another family? Is compassion really enough? It feels hollow, somehow. I don’t want that kind of hurt to exist for a family who gave us someone loved by so many people.

Sometimes, it feels like sorry isn’t enough. This is one of those times.

Being Royal Is a Headache

It’s hard to be royal.

Being a queen means not belonging to yourself, I think. After studying royalty for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a job one should consider carefully before taking the crown.

Crowns are heavy, and they have a way of leaving the body with the head still attached. History is filled with the vain, stupid, greedy, and lustful regents who found themselves at the end of a sword. The wrong end.

But history is also filled with good, just, intelligent royals who also found themselves relegated to the past by violent means, often in a spectacular, horrid fashion.

I write this because I’ve been giving a lot of consideration to where Livvy, from my novel Heartborn, will go in the future.

It’s true that writers use our characters as voodoo dolls, making them endure the very worst that our imagination has to offer.

I really like Livvy, and for seventeen years she struggled from breath to breath with a defective heart. I don’t want the rest of of her life to be a mockery of that, but I also want her to ascend to the heights she’s meant to be at when the world comes calling– and make no mistake, Livvy has greater concerns than she can imagine. Or, she will have, but that’s an issue for book two and three in the trilogy.

I think the question of whether Livvy is meant to be a queen is out of her hands, and in a sense, mine. The story goes where it will, especially when characters show the kind of steel that Livvy has within her. Still, in her own words, “Weapons were meant to be used.”

I think that royalty is a weapon, but for Livvy, I want to believe she’s the one holding the sword.

 

WE LOVE TO BARK.

We have five dogs of various breeds. All love to bark. Barking is their favorite thing, other than sleeping, but barking has to take place in strategically placed time zones in order to maximize its effectiveness.

To wit: Barking before 7:00AM? Enthusiastic. Unending. Varying tones, pitches, and reasons. Early morning barking is, in some ways, a medical miracle. Consider the following– our basset hound, Jack Reacher, can go from a snoring, drooling sleep to fully awake and on the verge of insanity, but only if conditions are just so.

These conditions may include, but are not limited to:

Cars driving by.

Trucks driving by.

People walking by, with or without their own dog.

Clouds.

Squirrels.

A change in barometric pressure.

Ghosts.

Among the five dogs in our herd, Jack is consistently the loudest, but not at all times. That honor goes to Michael Dean, also known as Big Mike. He’s a Newfoundland, and his array of barks are topped by what we ominously call his Big Boy Voice, which is reserved for such existential threats as the UPS driver and/or roaming frozen meat salespeople. Generally, one of his window-rattling booms is enough to convince the people selling small, convenient pre-packaged meat that we’re good for this year, and maybe check back never.

Meet Big Mike: 

I write this because it’s Sunday, the traditional day of rest, and yet I’ve been up with the dogs for some time. You see, dog are true biological wonders; they can average fifteen hours of sleep per day, but very little of their rest is actually when we sleep. Rather, dogs prefer to lay on me while I try to write during the day, then rouse their chorus of howls at any time from 11:00Pm to whenever the sky begins to turn that subtle gray that lets them know their human has quite enough rest, thank you very much, and isn’t it time we started letting the neighborhood know that the squirrels are not only still alive, but threatening the very fabric of all that is American.

It’s their job, right?

 

Fifty Shades of Suck.

I’ve got three *species* of vampires, ranging from sexy to, well, gross. In history, each culture has their own version, and it’s here that I found my playground from which to draw ideas for how I’d approach the beasties. Vampires, like Christian Grey, might be considered predators, but to what extent?

There’s something visceral about a sexual predator– and vampires are, make no mistake– that dances on the edge of cultural conscience between fascination and disgust. Vampires scare the hell out of some people because their abilities remove control, and thus, agency. Yet, many of us think of vampires as elegant criminals rather than hideous beasts. Why?

I chose to give one of my vampires a single, thin fang that slips into an artery, draining away life as the victim is mounted in a tangle of sexual heat and confusion. Sure, two fangs seem balanced, but in biological terms, wouldn’t one do the trick? For me, it worked. For others, there’s an appeal to the symmetry of a beast with two fangs, eyes flashing with promise of things that are illicit and dangerous.

Does this mean we’re all, in a way, adrenaline junkies? Is this the ultimate risk, in terms of sexuality? You give in to the monster: you die.

Or worse.

I wonder how we let the violation of vampires slip through our collective mind, shifting from the ultimate predator into something to be desired, even sought out. It’s a long trip between those two states of being, or is it? Is this a question of domination and submission, or is it something even more simple: the fulfillment of sexual pleasure through fantasy?

I ask these questions because of erotica in general, and the film Fifty Shades Darker hits theaters. As a casual observer, the phenomenon of women– adult, independent, educated– embracing the concept of submission is nothing short of fascinating. Is it because we fear asking for what we want, and it takes a monster to give it to us? For that matter, how often is anyone truly honest with their partner? There’s a fine line between thrill and disgust, a vague demarcation that lovers may never cross in their hunt for the thing they want most.

Is it also tied to the appearance of the monster, so to speak? I’ve always thought that we tolerate far more brutal behavior from beautiful people. Is this true? Are we conditioned to forgive, based on an expectation of cruelty from that which is deemed perfect and beautiful?

In a sense, I think we are. That’s why vampires (and Christian Grey) aren’t shunned. They’re embraced. Desired.

I think it’s as good a time as any to ask yourself, “What do I really want?”. If you can be honest, then you’re with the right person.

 

Pushups are the Devil

I’m on this stupid health and exercise kick, and it means giving up things like pie and cake for a while. As a man of a certain age, I have certain fears, which include (but are not limited to):

  1. Pleated khakis.
  2. Losing my hair.
  3. Belly.
  4. A larger belly.
  5. Chewing food like I’m a beetle.
  6. A compulsion to use coupons at dinner.
  7. Socks and sandals together.

Thus far, I’ve avoided most of that. Teeth are still good. Mind still feels sharp, unless it’s car keys and then I act as if every day is an archaeological hunt. I’m writing more emotional, lurid scenes that ever before, so I feel that (professionally), I’m better than ever. Writing is a muscle, but you know what else is a muscle?

Muscles.

I totaled last month’s pushup total from my Exercise Log of Doom, and the number was 2805.

That’s a lot of pushups for a middle-aged guy, or at least it is for me. It’s having an effect. I feel like my mind is slightly clearer, with less tendency to be dreamy when I’m writing. Does that make sense?

It’s also vanquishing fear number nine from the above list, which I saved for here: Moobs

I don’t want to have the chest of an American Buddha, so this whole nightmare of pushupageddon is actually working out rather well.

I still hate it, though. It’s like work, but with your face on the floor and lots of wheezing.

The goal for this month is 3000. Oh, and no bra. Ever.

New book is at 60,000 words. Done in a week. you’re going to love it. I’m over the moon for Livvy and a new character, Danila. She’s amazing.

Cheers.

 

Send Egg Recipes.

I’m on a super complicated diet this Spring. It’s mostly eggs, hot sauce, and eggs.

Regardless, I’m asking the internet and my bookfriends if you have any recipes pertaining to the following food items:

Eggs.

Veggies, preferably a huge amount.

I’m also doing a LOT of pushups, so anything that can help with higher protein (beans? maybe?) is most welcome.

Things I will eat: Everything on the planet except butter beans. Don’t you dare come ot me with butter beans, I will totally roll out a judo chop.

Things I REALLY like: Spicy stuff. Asian food. Mediterranean food. German food. American food. Food. Also, food.

Things I have to avoid for now: Bread and breadlike substances, although rice noodles are cool.

I used to own a restaurant, so I’ve been cooking for years, but I’m open to the wonders of new recipes.

If you submit a recipe that I go nuts over, is it alright to forward on in a new blog post?

Okay, whaddayagot?

Sincerely,

A boy, asking a pile of cauliflower to be hot wings.

 

 

How To Write a Love Scene

I’ve cracked the code, people. I have the power. Sexy time? I own it. Lovemaking? Booty Call?

Drive By Quickie?

Check, check, and mate.

Fellow writers, pay attention. This is my gift to you. Dear readers, use this information as you see fit.

*Cracks Knuckles*

Writing the perfect love scene:

  1. List everything you would do with your partner if you didn’t have kids, pets, or a job.
  2. Cut the speed of all those things in half.
  3. Add candles and chocolate.

 

You’re welcome, people.

How To Waste Time

10:12 AM

Bride asks, “Can you pick up fried rice for my lunch? They don’t open until 11. Can you find something to do until then?”

Me: “Have we met?”

What transpires next is as follows:

Gas station. One conversation, fill up, move on. 12 minutes.

Ace Hardware. Furnace filter. Three conversations about, but not limited to:

When to set out my onions.

Welding in cold weather.

Drills. 22 minutes.

Food Lion. Diet Coke (24 pack), Blueberry Nutrigrain Bars. Three conversations:

Books.

Kansas City.

Trucks. 17 minutes.

Arrive at Bento (Japanese Restaurant, lovely people) right on time. Order fried rice (no veggies), double order, and hibachi steak. 9 minutes.

Arrive home, eye my bride curiously as she makes no comment about issue of time. Debate reiterating my ability to waste time anywhere, any way, with anyone. It’s an art.

I’m a problem solver. If there’s extra time, fear not. It’s as good as gone.

Free Chocolate

Dark chocolate. Shaped like a star. From Roanoke. It’s MINE.

ALL MINE.

I spoke at the Roanoke Regional Writer’s Conference (say that fast, dare ya) and Liz Long rewarded me with dark chocolate.

This is not a drill. It’s fancy.

I have an online release party tonight for an anthology of which I’m a part– The Jurassic Chronicles— and I predict the star will be gone (completely) by 10:00 C.S.T.

About the dinosaurs, if you like them, check it out: 

Here it is: dino goodness! The Jurassic Chronicles

Stop by, won’t you? I’ll be jacked on chocolate, giving stuff away. Release Party: Much Dinosaur!

Cheers!