Cover Reveal – LIFELIKE

I recently redesigned the cover for my book Lifelike. I think the old cover (which was beautifully executed by my cover artist) was poorly directed. This new cover does a better job and, I hope, will generate additional interest in the book. I am convinced the cover was turning people who would have loved the book away from it. What do you think? Drop a comment or email me directly to let me know.

Writing on the go, #NaNoWriMo 2021 day one

Off to a good start for NaNoWriMo 2021. I managed 1,900 words this morning on a new plot line in my growing fantasy series. This is going to be a multiyear project. This will be my 12th attempt at NaNoWriMo since 2005, having “won” five times. My last win was also part of the current series I’m working on.

In 2005, of course, I did not have an iPad, and I can’t remember exactly how I wrote that first novel. On a laptop, I suppose. Later, I embraced the minimalist mobile approach. I remember going to write-ins at cafés, setting up my Palm TX and my bluetooth keyboard, and drawing stares and questions from other writers. That bluetooth keyboard folded in half so was not much larger than the Palm. It was also flaky af and required several reconnects to the Palm every hour. But it was great for writing on airplanes, in cafés, and really anywhere I could set the keyboard on my lap and the palm where I could see it. I wrote three novels on that setup.

I can only hope that my writing quality has improved as much as technology has in the last 16 years.

 

 

 

Ghost Breath – a short #FictionFriday story

This story originally appeared more than a decade ago on my old blog as part of an online writing group called #FictionFriday. The prompt was “a character gets three wishes,” and this was one of those stories that just flowed from the first line to the last, without me knowing really what was going to happen next. With Halloween approaching, a ghost story seems appropriate to resurrect.

Her mama called it ghost breath, this late September fog that lifted from the nearby pond and swirled slowly around Clara’s ankles and calves. It was thicker over near the old, wooden bridge where the stream came down from Parker’s Hill and fed the marsh that became Braden’s Pond. A ghost breath night, Mama used to say, was a sure omen of death. Soon the ghost breath would swell until Clara couldn’t see the stooped, stubby trees across the old gravel access road. Already the bridge had been swallowed up by the silent mist as darkness gradually defeated a reluctant twilight.

Clara sat on the embankment, the train tracks a few feet behind her, and watched the pond disappear into the darkness. Gravel poked through her thin skirt, but the night was warm and she didn’t mind the mist seeping through her threadbare school shirt. The moisture gathered and made the shirt cling like a second skin to her shoulders and breasts. Clara closed her eyes and imagined Mama out there gliding across the pond, floating above it in the air like a graceful dancer, pale and white and glowing. Maybe Mama was the lonely soul bringing the ghost breath with her tonight, back to visit the living. Maybe she’d come to take Clara away with her.

Clara opened her eyes and was startled to see the fog glaring bright-white at her from the direction of the old bridge. The brightness was moving, slowly, creeping closer and growing. Her heart jumped and thumped as she held her breath and barely dared to think of Mama coming to her as she’d just envisioned. The feeling lasted only a moment, though, as the brightness clarified into two burning white dots ringed with rainbow coronas: headlights. And now she could feel the vibration of its motor not far off, now sense the rumble of its tires on the gravel road, coming nearer.

For a moment, she hoped the car would drive on by and not see her. Her white shirt might blend in with the fog, her gray skirt with the gravel. But it was Friday night, and as the car lurched to a halt only ten yards away, Clara knew it was already too late to try to run away. She watched the driver’s door open, saw Charlie step out and say something. Nick popped out from the other side, laughing with his evil-looking sneer. Finally, Bill slid out from the back, pushing his greasy, black hair back and slouching behind Charlie. The three boys sauntered toward her.

Sometimes, Clara knew, her deafness could be an asset. Now she tried not to imagine all the things the boys were saying to each other. Even ten feet away the stink of bourbon flaked off them and melted into the mist swirling around them all. Maybe she could run after all. Maybe she could make it to the marsh and they’d let her go.

Without hesitating more, Clara pushed off the embankment and drove hard past Charlie, straight into a pounding run aiming for the bridge. They would catch her if she didn’t get a good head start into the darkness, into the ghost breath. She passed Charlie, but Bill lashed out with his foot. Pain seared into Clara’s shin, and she fell, her hands ripped open by the sharp gravel of the road, her knees ground into the dirt. Then they were on top of her, before she knew what was happening, and they hit her, hard in the legs, or maybe they were kicking. The pain in her leg and now a new wet pain on the side of her head dazed her, and she was only partially aware of the skirt being torn from her amid the stench of new sweat and stale cigarettes and bourbon. She was pushed and rolled and yanked like a rag doll, and every inch of her hurt so much.

Mama, she thought, Mama please come help me. Please come take me away with you.

She closed her eyes and retreated inside herself, clinging to the vision of Mama gliding across the pond, a shimmering vision of death, vengeance–salvation. Unable to hear, choosing not to see, Clara shut out the outside world and ignored her body and what was being done to it. She imagined Mama coming to her, kneeling beside her, hugging her like she used to. She felt Mama’s arms around her, felt Mama’s heartbeat, Mama’s warmth.

“Mama,” Clara whispered to the vision, “Mama take me with you. I wish I was dead. I wish to be with you.”

Her mama looked her in the eye with sad calm. “Hush, Clara. Don’t say that. Why, you’re just fourteen. You’ve got so much good ahead. Don’t wish that. Wish something else.” The vision embraced Clara again, this time with strength and solidity.

“Then Mama,” Clara whispered, “I wish Charlie would die. I wish Nick would die. And I especially wish Bill would die.”

Mama pulled back from Clara and looked into her eyes again, sadness now mixed with that look she used to give when she was very proud of Clara. Mama nodded slowly and began drifting away, backwards so they kept looking into each other’s eyes, until the bright figure merged into the mist and faded into the brightness that now was all around Clara.

Later. How much later, Clara had no idea. She had fallen asleep. No, she had passed out. She knew because she felt the pain growing as she became aware, as she floated up out of the depths of unconsciousness. The pain, everywhere, so intense she could barely gasp in enough breath.

Then, a familiar rumble began building in the ground under her. The gravel vibrated beneath her, and she opened her eyes. In less than a minute, the freight train would barrel past. All was darkness around her. The mist still loitered, now still as a frightened rabbit, waiting for something. The train would stir up the mist good, Clara thought.

In the distance, she saw the glimmer of the train’s headlamp glowing small and orange-white, a little sun in the dark mist. It was going fast tonight, Clara could feel it in the vibration of the gravel. She pulled herself to her knees, then stood up. The car was no longer next to her, but the stench of bourbon still lingered. She felt her head, found the blood still sticky in her hair.

Fifteen seconds, perhaps. The train was heavy, too. It was an insistent rumble, an unstoppable determination. She looked at the tracks on top of the embankment, their rails black as onyx, almost sucking what little light there was around her. Then she saw it. The car. Parked on the tracks. She could see the boys’ heads through the windows. They looked asleep, maybe.

As the train bore down on the car, Clara realized it was too late to save the boys. She felt a shudder through her chest that must have been an urgent blast on the train’s whistle, then a grating grinding as sparks leapt from underneath the engine. In the bright white of the train’s headlamp, the car became a brilliant centerpiece in the black surroundings. Charlie in the driver’s seat, asleep. Nick in the passenger seat, asleep. Bill in the back, lifting his head, his eyes growing wide as he watched his million-pound death pour down upon him at eighty miles an hour…

Clara did not close her eyes at the impact. She did not flinch. She watched in vague curiosity as the car first buckled and shrank, then sprang away from the train like a bead of oil off a hot griddle, up and away, off the tracks into the night beyond.

Limping, she turned to the gravel road and began slowly trudging toward the bridge where the ghost breath still lay thicker than anywhere. Away in the distance, over the pond, she thought she saw a shimmer of pale white gliding away from her and disappearing into the mist.

What I’ve learned about managing remote teams

My first “remote work” situation happened in 1985, when I learned how to log in remotely to UC Berkeley’s computers using my 1200 baud modem on my Apple 2+. My first online dating situation also happened in 1985 via that same Apple 2+, but that’s not a story for the blog.

I’ve been building and managing teams since my second job out of college, in 1990. I learned a little about managing people in 30 years, so recently I was interviewed by Authority Magazine and Thrive Global, who wanted to talk about managing remote teams. Check out the interview (it’s the same at both places) and let me know what you agree or disagree with.

I think Thrive pulled a weird quote for the title, but whatever. That section is about why staff meetings actually do matter.

And to reward you in advance for reading the interviews, here is a picture of my stupid cat, who after 15 years of life and countless lectures from me, still thinks it’s appropriate to wet her feet in the tub after I’ve showered, then immediately visit the litterbox, then walk on every available surface in the house.

stupid cat in crazy mode

At the Beach – #poetrymonth #poetry

At The Beach

a wave erupts
with a clap of white spray
against the rock
where four gray gulls loiter

they startle into the air
a burst of flapping wings
and shrieking outrage
each a tumble of chaos
fleeing its own direction
like popcorn exploding
from an uncovered pan

the wave retreats
the gulls return
the ocean swells

I think we all know
what happens next

Bitterness – #poetry

bitterness

You say someone pissed in your champagne?

Well.
In a sweltering kitchen—
curses and elbows
and the clatter of pan on stove—
patience gets minced,
and kindness pulverized.
Tempers simmer under jittery lids
until it feels like someone has attacked your soul
with a grater soaked in salt and lemon.

Although some romanticize this chaos,
calling it a vigorous dance
or a whirlwind of ecstasy,
it’s more like a knife fight—
a frenetic self-defense against
the relentless assault of little time
and vast expectation.

So, madame,
when you suggest
that someone pissed in your champagne,
I feel obligated to defend the staff,
who have no time for such shenanigans.

And please,
before you protest,
I feel further compelled to point out
that we do not
in fact
serve champagne.

So, with this knowledge,
you may give careful consideration
to the possibility that,
in the end,
the one who pissed in your glass
is yourself.

Privilege is the ability to live with blind spots. How to uncover your blind spots and recognize your own privilege.

Last year I mentioned to a friend that as a college educated straight white cis male born in a wealthy suburb, I have all the privileges except one: Christian privilege. My friend replied that there’s no such thing despite my many daily examples of feeling “less than” for not subscribing to Christianity. My friend’s main point seemed to be that yes

Christian privilege is what makes this an important photograph.

those things were real but it was unfair to paint all Christians with a single brush. Many Christians don’t wield their religion as a weapon.

I replied, “So you’re saying hashtag not all Christians?”

Today people knee-jerk the equivalent of “hashtag not all [insert group here]” a lot. It shows up as #NotAllCops. It shows up as #AllLivesMatter. It started as #NotAllMen when #YesAllWomen became a movement. Sometimes it shows up as a 300-word statement without any hashtags at all.

I was totally guilty of the #NotAllMen thing, and it hurt when some of my best friends beat me down hard over it. I got pretty righteously smacked around, and it took me a while to understand why.

It doesn’t matter that #NotAllMen is a true statement. It doesn’t matter that #AllLivesMatter is a true statement. It doesn’t matter that #NotAllCops is a true statement. What matters is that each of them is a different way of saying, “I am not listening to you. I reject what you are trying to tell me. I won’t try to understand.”

Any time you feel the need to say “yes, but hashtag not all [whatever group you belong to],” stop. Instead of making it about you personally and defending yourself (“maybe there are women who have suffered harassment or abuse, but NOT FROM ME”), listen. They are giving you a chance to see the world from their perspective, to step into their shoes and imagine what life is like for those without the privilege you take for granted.

As a man, I haven’t ever felt at risk of sexual abuse, and I believe I honor every woman’s right to feel safe from abuse. So, being told that I am perceived as a threat by women who don’t know me (#YesAllWomen) felt like I was personally being attacked–I felt like I am being pre-judged based on how I look, not on who I am.

As long as I was in my #NotAllMen defensive posture, I was unable to see the systemic sexual oppression that women were trying to explain to me. My male privilege made it a blind spot. Blind spots aren’t moral failings; we all have them. Defensiveness, however, is an intellectual failure.

When you hear a black person say “black lives matter,” stop hearing “your life does not matter.” Start hearing what the phrase represents: That every black person is suffering some form of discrimination, harassment, or violence every minute of their lives in America. Instead of denying that systemic racism exists because you can’t perceive it, consider that you may have a blind spot. Listen to what black people are saying, then look for examples in your own life where a black person’s experience might be very different from your own.

It’s not hard to do.

All you have to do is realize that any time you feel like answering with #NotAllPeopleLikeMe, you have an opportunity to see your own privilege and learn to understand how people without that privilege experience America.

junior varsity – #poetrymonth #poetry

junior varsity

At the crack of the gun
they lurch and surge
with all the chaos and color
of three hundred
discarded candy wrappers
whipped by a summer gust

they come
glowering
prepared
determined
charged with anticipation
of the pain to come
and the deferred joy
of the finish line
three miles away

We parents
behind our cameras
bark inspiration and optimism
imagining rather than feeling
the ground tremble
under the pounding ferocity
as they gallop past.

Barriers – #PoetryMonth #poetry

barriers

cheap whiskey, neat
in an antiseptic hotel bar
across a broad table
its fake wood grain sticky
with syrupy drips
and saccharine words

secondary colleagues
chatter and whine
about pretentious plenaries
and boring breakouts

glass empty, bill paid
duty complete, I rise
offering feigned regrets
to cover one final glance
at your mahogany hair
and flushed cheeks
and tired green eyes

you catch me
at the elevator
we both push fourteen
and laugh, surprised

on the slow rise
I relish the strawberry scent
of your lip gloss
and ask after your kids (good)
your job (fine)
your husband (oh, you know)

what are the odds
in a hotel with 2,000 rooms
yours would adjoin mine

as we mumble our goodnights
in the dull fluorescence
I wonder if you also wish
that the only thing separating us
was a thin panel of drywall