Each week in 2022, my partner, Antoinette, took a picture which I then used as a prompt to write an original poem. The result is a collection of 52 unique, compelling, and intriguing pairings… one from each week of the year.
Last weekend, Antoinette and I participated in a panel of authors and artists, where we read from the book and shared the photographs. We also talked about our collaborative process and how the book came to be—an accident, in a way.
It’s always a vulnerable feeling, sharing your creative output with the world. Going up on stage to read it out loud is a new thing for me.
It was a blast! And the audience members who stayed for the reception after had very nice things to say about it all.
With a fast-paced, exciting opening, Semper starts on the right foot with multiple kidnappings and tense character interactions from the word go. Events become a tad less exciting when the Hamlet-inspired parts of the plot take over and story beats become predictable.
Dane’s narration is instantly compelling, bringing us in close to his perspective as the future leader of his people. Expertly balancing internal monologue and action, Dudley’s writing is enthralling. Characters sometimes have more knowledge than feels accurate for three hundred years post-apocalypse.
Both the Hamlet theme and the post-‘Bomb’ setting are quite common. Neither of the standard tropes of either are subverted much, though they are still written in an entertaining fashion.
Dane, Lupay, Freda, Tom, and others all come across as richly detailed characters with their own unique motivations and personalities. Many traits, especially for the villains, are cribbed from Shakespeare, but it’s all put across so well that it’s hard to mind much.
Today (March 27) is the last of a 5-day run where all my books are freeon Amazon for Kindle. Get them all here (click title or cover for the Amazon page):
LIFELIKEFor teens and adultsHave you ever loved someone who could kill you with their paintbrush?
Jewel’s artistic talent is like magic, as if her brush were a witch’s wand, not a simple painting tool. She thinks she could surpass the old masters, if she could only escape her parents’ plastic existence. When she’s finally out of high school, she flees to San Francisco and a fresh start.
What she doesn’t know is that her talent is fueled by an untamed and dangerous magic which makes her an unwilling threat to the people she loves. When a mysterious, alluring art teacher promises to train her to control and harness that magic, Jewel puts her future–and her body–into his seductive hands. She soon discovers she’s not his first pupil, however, and as she learns the truth from the girls who came before, Jewel is faced with a terrible choice: Give up painting and spend her life running away, or risk her life–and her very soul–to destroy the man she’s fallen in love with.
SEMPER – first in the “New Eden” trilogyFor teens and adults
Three hundred years after nuclear war destroyed most of the Earth, Southshaw exists as a lush oasis in a desolate, charred world steeped in radiation. The Ancients were able to keep out the mutants and preserve Southshaw’s mountain valley, establishing a peaceful and thriving community built on faith and simplicity of life. Technology is forbidden, as the pursuit of knowledge is believed to have led to the nuclear apocalypse twelve generations ago. It is Semper’s duty to manage the community and provide spiritual leadership to Southshaw’s citizens.
Dane is in line to become the thirteenth Semper of Southshaw. On the eve of his sixteenth birthday, however, he finds that the ghost stories from his childhood and the frightening tales of mutants in the north are not just legends. But the legends are not entirely true, either. And suddenly he’s faced with a choice he never expected to make: should he take his place as Semper, obeying his cruel uncle and twelve generations of Southshaw Truth, or should he follow his heart and risk exile and death to unearth the real truth? An exotic huntress, a mythical ghost-man, and a tailor’s daughter hold the keys to his answer. And to the survival of Southshaw–and possibly all of humanity–itself.
FORSADA – second in the “New Eden” trilogyFor teens and adults
Lupay isn’t afraid of fighting, but what can one girl do against an army? Thousands of Southshawans, whipped into a war frenzy by a fundamentalist demagogue, are poised to sweep in and crush her home of Tawtrukk, and Lupay is powerless to stop it.
Or is she?
Driven into hiding and pursued even into the depths of the mountain, Lupay and her friends do their best to resist. But resistance won’t withstand the onslaught forever, and ultimately Lupay must choose: flee into the radioactive barrens of the Desolation, or rise up and fight fire with fire, like the legendary Tawtrukk warrior queen, Forsada.
FREDA – final book of the “New Eden” trilogyFor teens and adults
In the aftermath of war, false friendships, failed loyalties, and new alliances make truth difficult to see clearly. The battle for Tawtrukk is over, but the madman that started it all has escaped, and now he has instructions for detonating the nuclear bomb that stood dormant in the Southshaw chapel for thirteen generations. If he can’t be stopped in time, Freda will have to find some way to lead the survivors to a new home over the mountains, into a land she’d always been taught was an uninhabitable wasteland of smoldering radiation.
Cryptic clues left by Southshaw’s Founders three hundred years ago suggest that the land may not be as desolate as everyone thought, but can those clues be trusted? Can Freda unite the bitter, angry remnants of the Southshaw, Tawtrukk, and Subterra peoples? Can she get them to follow the clues when many think they lead to death instead of to the paradise Freda believes they promise?
THE BAD LIEFor 3rd to 6th graders
Jay had hoped to spend the summer after fifth grade at his dad’s in New York, but instead he’s stuck in boring day care while his mom works and his friends bike around and have fun. Jay’s weekly bright spot is the day care’s golf outings at Fair Elm Country Club on Monday and Wednesday afternoons. Although his cool friends make fun of him for being in day care, he likes golfing with Becca, a smart girl on the fringe of the popular group who’s really helping him improve his putting. When his friends convince him to “have some fun” one night with their bikes, things turn bad. Jay’s efforts to stay out of trouble backfire, causing even more problems and almost destroying his friendship with Becca. On the verge of starting middle school, Jay has to choose: He can either lie and keep his popular friends while avoiding punishment, or he can own up what he’s done and win back Becca’s respect.
No one saw us dancing
at the party
as we glided
to crowded room
greeting old friends
and avoiding each other
with practiced precision
until at the end of the night
our embrace on the threshold
lasted an acceptable duration
and we expressed
our mutual regret
at not spending
Tall pines stand stoic
behind us, a row of sentries
two worlds from each other.
We broke their line
to escape the campground
with its unwashed dishes
and uncorked wine bottles
and unconcerned spouses.
We took with us
their implicit innocence
to the twilight
of the rocky dirt
beside the lake.
While they race along
the thirsty, drought-parched shore
you and I stand silent
side by side
motionless as ancient pillars
of a long lost pagan temple.
The bruised sky relaxes to black
and we turn our gazes starward
conscious of the trees
and the children
and the chill of the Sierra evening
and the warmth of each other.
I want to reach up
and pluck a star from the sky
like stealing a tiny white blossom
from a mountain vine
to curl into your golden hair.
But it would be easier to weave you
an entire wreath of stars
than to cross
the vast, impossible distance
your shivering hand
Ducks, I suspect,
or spend much time
contemplating their failures.
A few years back, two ducks
flap-flopped from the sky
to splash into the swimming pool,
returning each spring until
we filled the pool with dirt,
and with crushed granite,
because the ducks had become
the only ones swimming in it.
Decades ago, when I was young,
ducks waddled across Tryon Street,
marching from Roaring Brook
through the muddy flood pastures
down to the river,
ignoring the Killiam’s dairy cows
in a celebration of
The cows and the ducks and the brook
comprised a constancy of motion and stillness,
much like the river,
which would announce the end of winter
with the booming thunder of cracking ice,
a magical sound I could hear
as I lay in my top bunk
on the hill across Tryon Street.
I loved the river all iced-over,
but I loved the great heaves
of the drifting floes more.
I wonder if the ducks, or the cows, even noticed.
I suspect they knew
what has taken me
a lifetime to learn.
That the river freezes over,
and the ice thaws,
but the water keeps flowing
And this is why I know that,
my phone will ring,
and it will sound
like river ice breaking,
and when I hear your voice
we will be friends
Last week, my daughter and I got new tattoos. She designed hers two weeks ago, I loved it, and I asked for a modified version for me. Since she was visiting from southern California last week, we found ourselves under Aaron‘s needle at Zebra tattoo in Berkeley on Thursday, walking out with new ink in time to go to grandma’s for dinner. (She hates tattoos.)
Most people are surprised to find out I already had a tattoo. Clean-cut white guy with no sense of style, very polite, very little cussing, worked for a bank… that guy has a tat? But yeah, it’s tiny and one color and in a place that’s often covered up. So.
Anyway. Emma modified her drawing to my specifications, and Aaron redrew it to make it more tattooey (for skin instead of paper).
It’s on my left forearm, so a lot bigger and more visible than the first.
Emma’s tattoo was the medical symbol of a staff with a snake wrapped around it, but she changed the snake to a rattlesnake and added the words Don’t Tread On Me. I decided a quill (for writing of course) suited me better, though I kept the rattler. The color pattern on the snake is blue-pink-white-pink-blue, repeated; this is the pattern of the trans flag. (As you know if you’ve read my blog much, I am the proud father of a trans woman.) While I don’t think of my writing as venomous, I do want it to have bite, and the rattler reminds me not to be timid in my writing.
Do you have one or more tattoos? Do they have significance beyond aesthetic appeal? Let me know in the comments.
Proposals, “what went wrong” documents, even status updates. These and lots more come through your inbox, written by others and given to you to pass along to management, decision makers, or others. When I get these, I always proofread before sending along. After all, my name will be on it even though I’m not the author.
My team are all good writers, but every document can be improved. Here are some edits that may occur to you as you review.
Only one of those four is helpful, though. Which one? I’ll give you a few minutes to think it through.
If you didn’t say the last one, then we can’t be friends anymore.
What do the first three have in common that make them not just unhelpful but actually counterproductive? In each, you’ve acknowledged that the communication does its job, but your ego has declared, “That’s not the way I would say it.” You now have a choice: Approve the document with minor edits, or rewrite the document the way you would have written it?
If you’re unsure of the right choice, here’s a handy flowchart for you:
The objective of business communication is to communicate business things. If the document does its job and is not grossly offensive in how it presents itself, then leave it alone. Make minor edits–clarify where necessary, fix usage and grammar, spell-check, etc.–but do not rewrite.
Rewriting a document that is already competently written accomplishes only negative things:
You waste your own time.
You make the author feel their time was wasted.
You make the author feel their voice is unheard and their work is unappreciated.
You confuse people about who now “owns” the document. It’s no longer the original author’s, but it’s not yours either. Who responds to questions?
You set yourself up to get crap that needs to be rewritten in the future, because who wants to put a ton of work into something that’s just going to get reworked anyway?
Certainly, some situations may require rewrites. A draft written by an engineer that needs to be reformed in the corporate voice for public use, for example. This is where professional communicators need to step in and command the output.
You all know me by now as someone who cares deeply about the written word. Much of the time in business, however, your time is better spent elsewhere than rewriting a competent document into a (marginally) more competent document.
The Editing Pony
The Editing Pony is a blog series about good business writing. I’ll post periodic tips and gladly critique and rewrite emails or one-pagers for you in a blog post. Contact me to learn more.
Why a pony? A writer friend said she hadn’t edited in ages, but she was “getting back up on that pony.” Thus, the Editing Pony was conceived, to trample your words with ruthless, plush cuteness.