That's me. Shirtless, utterly on display. Vulnerable. The results of a 16 week experiment to try and understand my body better. 16 weeks of rigorously cataloging everything I ate and drank, calculating calories, working out an hour or more a day. Weight training, cardio circuits, treadmill, exercise bike, core work (and of course, NOT skipping leg day), all to see what would happen to my body. The results are there to see, but the problem is when I look at the after pictures, I mostly see that I still have that excess flab below my belly button and at my sides and back, my chest isn't the armor plating that I want and my arms are still small. When I look in the mirror, I'm still more the person in those before pictures and the person in those after pictures. I can appreciate what I've accomplished, but not enough to shut that voice in my head off telling me I'm still that chubby little kid that lives inside of me. Why, though? Why this negative self image? And most importantly, how can make sure that I don't pass along sentiments like this to my son?
The problem with my weight goes back to grade school. I remember very vividly between 2nd and 3rd grade putting on 20 pounds yet growing in height very little. I don't know what caused it, except to conjecture that since I was such a picky eater as a child, I was allowed to eat all the food I liked because eating something was better than not eating at all. I was always on the shorter side anyway (another hangup regarding my physical appearance that I've always struggled with), so this weight gain was very evident. Seemingly overnight I went from being described by others as "skinny" to "husky". The newfound weight also affected my athleticism. I loved (and still love) playing sports as a child and my grade school was home to some of the best Boy's Club teams in the school district. I maintained enough talent to stay competitive with my taller, thinner friends but I was always looked at as more of a reliable hand to have on any team than a top player. We had a very . . . let's say, enthusiastic coach for our club teams who, on more than one occasion, when he was trying to motivate us to be the best we could, would call out the attributes of our players. Standing in a circle he'd point to each of us and say, "Look at the speed we got on this team! We've got speed!" pointing to Keith, "Speed!" pointing to Ryan, "Speed!" pointing to Wayne, "Speed!" pointing to Weston, "We've got . . . " pauses for a moment when he comes to me, "Rob, you're not as fast, but you play smart." Thanks, Coach, just what an 11-year old likes to hear.
Suffice to say, by the time Middle School rolled around, I hadn't developed to the point of my peers and left behind most organized sports, with the exception of baseball - my best sport, actually - though my development in that regard was given it's final nail thanks to two consecutive summers of a shoulder injury sustained in the winter which never fully healed in one and a broken wrist in another. I focused on golf and my musical and dramatic pursuits in high school. In gym class, I only stood out in the pool (though was never good enough to actually join the team), and continued with my ineffectiveness in physical tests, never being able to some much as break a 12 minute mile or do a single pull-up, in spite of my efforts in the makeshift gym in my parents' basement. I attracted a few girlfriends, surprising out of my league in a few cases, more with my personality, but was always chaffed by being described as "cute" rather than "hot". Matters weren't made much better as my best friend (then and to this day) was agreed by many of the tongue-wagging girls that we knew to be one of the most attractive guys in school and he has never put forth the effort to maintaining his body as I have. The joke around the lunch table was that his 6-pack was created by Doritos and online gaming.
This pattern continued into college, where I would choose to work out with my female friends to avoid the embarrassment of not being able to hoist as much weight as the guys. Pictures exist of me shirtless during those times where mid-30s me thought I was downright jacked but at the time I still felt downright below average next to the people I associated with and compared myself to on a daily basis (Including my father, whom I seem to share absolutely no metabolism related genetics with as he, at nearly 70 still fits into suits he's had for nearly 50 years despite the fact that he hasn't done any cardio since 1972, might not know what a dumbbell even is, watches what he eats in so far as he looks at the food before it goes into his mouth and smokes unfiltered cigarettes like a chimney). Coupled with the fact that once my early twenties hit, I began to dye my hair to cover up the premature graying and developed a noticeable widow's peak forming in my hairline. I decided shortly before turning 30 that I'd join some friends in running my first half marathon, trained for 3 months and got in the best shape of my life to that point, just in time to meet the gorgeous woman who became my wife. Happiness quickly went to my midsection of course and so began the never-ending cycle of weight gain, shame and self disgust, sign up for some summer fitness challenge (like a half marathon or the Tough Mudder), drop 15+ pounds, complete fitness challenge, feel good, reward myself with food, gain 20 pounds back, repeat.
All this led me to where I am today. I can say I continue to pursue my fitness goals for personal satisfaction and health, but that would mostly be a lie. The truth is, sad as it is, the world judges people on their appearance. It's inescapable. I wish I had the confidence that some select people do to be happy with themselves no matter what, but in actuality, I possess the certain type of narcissism that is fed by getting people to tell you how good you look just so you can respond with everything that's wrong with you and in so doing, maintain enough edge of self loathing to keep you away from complacency. And let me just say, I know this is terrible and I want to do everything I can to stop this trend with myself and not spread it to my son. Already he comes downstairs when I work out, grabs some 3 lb weights and emulates whatever exercise I'm doing. It does bring me joy to see him smiling while he does it and I hope I can do my part to keep him seeing fitness and exercise as a fun endeavor rather than a way to torture and punish yourself for not being "good enough", the way I sometimes do. For myself, though, that's just a part of me that instead of fighting against, I strive to simply make peace with and keep to myself as much as possible. And who knows, maybe one day, as long as I can acknowledge that I'm working to be the best me possible, both inside and out, I'll come to a place where I can be okay with that little bit of belly fat that won't go away, as I finally have (now that I'm closer to 40 than 30) with my salt and pepper temples, receding hairline, the hair growing in my ears, on my knuckles, and on my back, the wrinkles by my eyes, my gross feet, that one crooked tooth . . .
I mean, a man can't live on 1,800 daily calories forever, right? Maybe I should rethink my Super Bowl Weekend Cheat Fest. Nah. Then I'd have nothing to complain about on Monday!
It was just before 9:00am on January 31, 2017. I was sitting in my truck waiting for my mother to arrive at the title agency to complete the sale of my childhood home (with me, in my other profession, acting as real estate agent). My phone rang and, predictably, it was my mother. Figuring she was simply telling me that she was on her way and giving me an ETA, as is her wont whenever we're going to meet, I picked up the phone. There was a pause, along with a deep and shaky breath on the other end, and I didn't even need to hear the words, "Grandpa died," to know what the purpose of the call actually was.
There admittedly wasn't a lot of shock. My grandfather had been in decline for a while, the effects of Alzheimer's and dementia eroding everything that made him the warm, intelligent, and bright man I remembered in my youth. The whole family knew it wouldn't be long. He'd been in hospital care for the majority of the last 6 months and we had even made the plan to all get together, my mom and step dad, my grandmother, my aunt, uncle, and cousin and her husband, and say our goodbyes later that very day. My mother and I just had our business to conclude first. And even with the death of our family's patriarch, we still did. I can only imagine how cold I must have sounded when I took my own breath and tried to remind my mother that we had a contract to fulfill and I needed her there as soon as I possible. I was a grieving son and grandson, yet I was also a professional who needed to stay composed for everyone else: A theme that would repeat until the day of my grandfather's funeral.
I've never been someone who is comfortable with death. I'm not good at memorial services, especially if there's an open casket. All I can think about is how generic and stilted my condolences sound to those I am offering them to, whether that's true or not. I can sympathize with how I imagine others must be feeling, but as someone who notoriously internalizes his own emotions, I do not pretend to empathize. Because I know I don't process identical stimuli in the same manner as others. Expressing my own grief is also a problem for me. Underneath (at least until I softened after marriage and having a child) I was a roiling sea of feelings, but on the surface: stoicism. It sometimes make me come across as callus. But, it seems that it also gives me an air of strength to my more outwardly emotional family, which came to bear on that day.
After I managed to keep the closing on schedule, I made my way down to the hospital. There, I was left alone by my family to say my goodbyes to my grandfather. I can still remember seeing him lying on the hospital bed, physically in front of me, but somehow not there. I sat in a chair at the bed's foot, for a while simply staring, waiting to maybe see his chest rise and fall and somehow make this whole thing not real. Eventually I began to speak aloud, though quietly. I talked about how much I'd miss him, how I wished he could have hung on long enough to see me get married later that year, how I was sorry that I couldn't bring myself to visit more, that I'd let myself drift away from the otherwise tight-knit core that was my mom's side of the family. I talked about other things that we'd usually talk about when he was himself: the prospects of the Brewers and Packers on the upcoming season, mostly. I kept rambling for so long I lost count of the minutes. I was searching for tears and silently cursing myself that I couldn't cry like the rest of my family.
Finally the rest of the family came in and we talked and reminisced. As time wore on, though, it became apparent that we were stalling what we knew had to come next. Eventually it was stated, by who, I can't remember, that it was time to call the funeral home to take the body. Almost immediately seven pairs of eyes were upon me. I knew what was in the collective mind of the group: Rob is the one who will have the strength of will to pick up the phone. The number and instructions were already on a piece of paper, waiting for me to dial. Dutifully, I did what I was expected. *Sigh* What was expected. I'd crafted my facade so well that to break now would make me feel like I was letting down my whole family. It wasn't until we had all left the room and were well down the hall that I managed to pull myself away and stand alone, staring back through the half open door into the room that contained the bed which held the vessel that was once my grandfather. At that moment, the reality that this was to be the last time I'd set eyes on him finally came to the surface and my eyes finally released their tears. And still, even to the last, I made certain I stayed turned from the rest of my family and only returned to their company once my eyes were dry again.
As part of the funeral preparations, I was determined to give my grandfather's eulogy. Truth be told, I had be thinking about his death for a while and had even begun early drafts of the speech I would give. I expected to be asked, feeling like my family would lean on my drama background and comfort with performing in front of a crowd to make a tribute worthy of my grandfather. And, in my private arrogant thoughts, I believed the same. But also, there was a desire to somehow making up for my perceived deficiencies as a grandson and mourner by exposing my feelings in a 4 page speech. And, naturally, I received acclaim for my words from a myriad of people I'd never met before and would never see again, but once my grandfather's ashes were interred (along with a copy of my eulogy), I was left with nothing but my thoughts.
In the intervening years since his death, the thoughts of my grandfather have come, I would judge, less often than I would like, and not always in the best ways (in my assessment). Sometimes it's in the context of feeling cheated in a way, lamenting that my cousin got to have him dance at her wedding and I carried a vial of dirt from his memorial garden at mine. Or that he met and held her kids, but my son will only know him from pictures and stories. Sometimes I'll hold a little conversation with him when I'm out for a walk. And then there are the times that I'm going about my day and something suddenly reminds me of him and I remember that he's gone and I'm brought down by the idea that I didn't miss his presence in my life until the moment I missed it. I guess, even though my life in many ways has moved forward by leaps and bounds, a part of me is still mourning him.
I don't know if writing this entry has done anything but give me permission to share parts of myself that I usually keep inside. I don't know if I've learned to grieve like others do. I can't decide if what I do is right or wrong, or even why I should care how others look at how I handle my feelings. I just do the best I can. And in the spirit of that, I give myself permission to transcribe the eulogy I wrote for my grandfather 5 years ago. Because above any novel I completed, above any blog post, tweet, card, story, or text, this remains the epitome of anything I've ever conferred from my mind onto the page:
It’s often easy to convince yourself that there is comfort in knowing that the end is near and in having a certain amount of time to prepare yourself for the hole that a loved one’s death will invariably leave. However, when the time comes, it’s clear that there is no preparing for that loss, especially when that loss is someone like my Grandfather. Personally, I spent weeks, months even, galvanizing myself against the coming grief, preparing to take on a mantle of stoicism, which I conditioned myself to believe would lend strength to the rest of my family. So when I received the inevitable news tearful phone call from my mother, instead of reacting, I was silent, numb. And what followed after I hung up the phone was the type of internal beratement that the conscious decision to internalize one’s grief has the unfortunate habit of leading to. I was going to visit this afternoon! I yelled at myself. Why didn’t I visit yesterday when I had the chance? Why didn’t I call more often? Did he know how much I loved him? Does my family know? Was whatever was going on in my life really more important than spending one more day with my Grandfather? It was only after the family gathering at the hospital later that day, after the tears finally came and I resolved to give this eulogy for him, that I realized how foolishly had handled the situation in the time leading up to this. When I finally opened up my eyes, my ears, and my heart I could only conclude that internalized emotion and the type of silent suffering that I forced upon myself in the effort to limit my own vulnerability was not the way to honor a man who proved that love, compassion, empathy, and patience in no way convey weakness, but rather immeasurable strength. Knowing and embracing that, I feel I can make a far better account of Bob Rohleder, my Grandfather, than I ever could have otherwise.
I believe there is a cyclical nature to life and as such certain things happen from time to time that they can’t possibly be coincidence. The last time I attended a church service here at St. Mark’s was nearly 11 years ago and I was here attending the funeral for my grandmother, that is to say, my father’s mother, Joy (whose ashes rest in that very columbarium). That day, as this one, was full of both grief and remembrance. But one thing that stands out about that day is that the celebrant was of course my Grandfather. Not very cyclical, maybe, until you consider that at this point in that service, he was standing in this very spot giving the eulogy for her. The years that have passed in between have dulled much of that day in my memory, unfortunately, except that I can still remember very clearly my grandfather’s assertions that she did not fear death, rather that through her faith my grandmother instead looked forward to her reunion with her husband and two of her children who were tragically taken before their time. At the time, I don’t think I truly possessed the necessary awareness to understand the true meaning of what was occurring in that moment. Some would be tempted to see this as a clergyman simply performing one of his duties. However, looking back, over all my years I recall very few instances where my grandfather and grandma Joy spent extended amounts of time together, owing to the fact that, at least over the course of my lifetime they rarely even lived in the same state as each other and visits were especially rare in those last years of her life. And yet here was my grandfather, commemorating her as lovingly as she were a beloved sister. That may be the first time, though I had known the man for over 20 years by that point, that I began to truly understand that he was more than, well, than simply “Grandpa”.
Since his passing last week, a lot of words have been used to describe my grandfather. Gentle, loving, kind, and faithful just to name a few. And I agree with all of those. But it was something my father, said which became the catalyst for how I chose to shape this eulogy. It was a few weeks ago and we were running our dogs at the exercise grounds in the Kettle Moraine. I had been on the phone earlier with my mother, who informed me that he wasn’t doing well in the hospital and the doctors had informed her and my grandmother that it the end was coming soon. My father was quiet for a moment and then simply said to me, “Your Grandfather was a great man.” Those six words mean all the more when you consider that the last time I remember them being together in the same place was at his mother’s funeral, which I have just mentioned. It therefore speaks volumes of my grandfather’s ability to bring people together that, though my parents divorced years ago, my father would not only still be able to say that about him, but would wish to come here today and pay his respects. At the risk of embarrassing him, let me just say I don’t think anyone can understand just how much that means to me and I think I speak for the whole family when I say thank you for being here.
Since that day, I’ve been thinking a lot about what makes a man “great” and after a lot of thought I’ve concluded that I actually disagree with that assessment. There have been many in history who have been given the moniker of “The Great”. This is usually a term associated with some form of monarch or other figure raised high in the esteem of the general public on the basis of their accomplishments. I wonder, though, how many of these, if we had to go back and assess everything they did and why they did it, accomplished the things they did for no other reason than for the betterment of the people around them. To put it another way, they did well, but did they do good? It’s for this reason that I consider my grandfather to be more than just a great man. For, as we all know, he wasn’t the least bit concerned with his own accomplishments. He was a man who lived to do good, a man who would rather here all about you and what you were doing that talk about himself and only wished to be rewarded with the satisfaction of making a positive impact in people’s lives. At least that’s what I believe, because, obviously, he was too modest to tell anyone.
It’s impossible to summarize a man’s life in a few pages. Eighty-five years gives you a lot of material to use. There’s that home birth on Valentine’s Day of 1931, father Wally coaching wife Maeda through the delivery under the kitchen table because there was no room at the hospital. See what I did there? Okay, that last part was that obligatory clever remark everyone was waiting for to add a touch of levity. We could talk about the 1949 high school state championship baseball team, if I remember his stories correctly he was the starting left fielder, his marriage to his one and only sweetheart, my grandmother, before they shipped out together to Pearl Harbor in 1951 to serve his time in the Marine Corps. We could talk about his 14 years as a detective on the South Milwaukee Police force, and I’m sure my mother and aunt have their own stories about what an amazing father he was. If I spent the next year interviewing everyone in this room I could probably write a book and I’m sure it would tell the tale of a man who was probably intelligent enough to be a doctor or lawyer, if money was of paramount interest to him. It might tell the story of a man whose report with people could have seen him in public office, if he had anything more than this relatively apathetic view toward politics. But obviously this was not my grandfather, who was all these things, intelligent and congenial and more, but above all, as I said before, he was a man who served in more ways than one. And that desire to serve led him to his true calling and passion in life.
It was 1977 when my grandfather was ordained as a Deacon. 3-week-old me was baptized by my grandfather, and 3-year-old me knew that “Grandpa stood at the alter with the priest during church, but wasn’t quite the priest, more like the priest’s helper.” 31-year-old decided to research the history of the office and found the most appropriate description of my grandfather in the word itself. Greek in etymology, the word deacon takes its root from the word diakonos, which scholars translate to either mean “servant”, “messenger”, or perhaps more appropriately “through the dust”, in the context of the dust raised by a busy servant or messenger. This last translation is what I find most appropriate, because as most of us know, even before he retired from his professional work, being the Deacon of this parish was more than just a Sunday morning obligation for my grandfather. A true ambassador of his faith, he spent countless hours visiting the sick and infirm, fittingly most frequently at the very hospital which took such great care of him at the end of his life. He was a fan of the little things, from leading morning weekday prayer groups to giving the family prayer at our Thanksgiving dinner. He was always willing to share his faith freely with everyone though was never gregarious about it, and indeed never begrudged you your difference of opinion. I don’t stand up here before today as someone who professes to be an expert in all things ecclesiastical. My personal belief is that no person’s faith in God is the same as another’s. In my adult life, I’ve tried to make it a point to try to gain at least a basic understanding of a variety of world religions, from my roots in Christianity to Taoism and the writings of Lao Tzu, to Buddhism, to Islam and Judaism. And the more one reads on these matters, the more it becomes clear that at their cores, in the purest form, they’re all the same. There is divinity in every human being and that it is our selfish desires which separate us from God. And that when we seek to do good in this world in whatever small way we can, that is when we truly touch the divine. That is the moment when God truly shines in us. And I need to look no further than the example of my grandfather for that. We’re going to hear two different readings from the bible today read by my cousin, Vanessa, passages chosen from my grandfather’s bible in which he highlighted his favorite passages. One reading from _________ and the epistle from Romans Chapter 8. These are perfectly wonderful passages to remember my grandfather with, but when I think of how to summarize him, I actually circle back to the two other passages that not only embody the way he lived his life, but also fittingly form the foundation of my own faith. The first is probably very well known to most everyone here and that is 1 John 4:7 which states that “love is of God and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” The second, more obscure to some, was actually introduced to me by my father, who actually has it painted on the spoiler of his Fierro backwards so he can read it in the review mirror and I find it happens to also fit my grandfather to a T. Romans 12:18, which paraphrased says “whenever possible, live at peace with all men.” I don’t think I need say more.
I am unique among this assembly here today, as the only person who can view Bob Rohleder through the eyes of a grandson. To me, as a young boy, he was the smiling figure in the pork pie hat and brown striped tie walking down the street from the bus stop as grandma and I went to pick him up after work who stopped to give his wife her three kisses before giving me a big hug and cheerily greeting me with his customary, “Hey, Buddy!” A fitting greeting as I never knew him to greet anyone in any way other than as an old friend, though, to the best of my recollection, that particular nickname was reserved just for me. He was my monopoly and Yahtzee partner when I was little, and my card playing partner as I grew. He would spend countless hours with me just throwing the baseball in the back yard, and more time than I can count on a knee as my catcher as a 12-year-old me tried to perfect the pitching mechanics that I dreamed would one day take me to the big time. He was generous with his strike zone and never complained of fatigue, though he wasn’t the young man he once was. Though in these last few years, his mind became less sharp, I’ll always remember him calling out answer after answer as we’d watch Jeopardy together, believing in my youth that there couldn’t possibly be anyone as smart as him. And up until he has no longer physically able, there was no one I would rather attend a Brewer game with than him. Such was the simplicity of our relationship, for, though I never recall outwardly asking for any advice, I realize now that unconsciously for a long while, I have been trying to follow his example in the way I live and above all how I try treat those around me. I know I can never do it as effortlessly as he could, but then, I don’t know many who can.
It may well be that the reason we here today can celebrate with such great joy the life of my Grandfather is in fact the very same reason why his passing has left such a great wound in all our lives. In this world climate, where religion, politics, and personal ideologies still divide us, it's perhaps even more important to remember that we always have a choice to allow aggravation and anger to wrest control of our hearts, or to follow the example of Robert Arthur Rohelder and choose to reach for love instead. And simply put, that one powerful word is the greatest legacy anyone could hope to leave. He loved my Grandmother more deeply than I've ever seen a man love his wife. He loved his children, my mother and aunt, and grandchildren, myself and Vanessa, more selflessly than I would have ever thought possible, and he loved his fellow human beings more honestly than could be believed. That depth of love, that reflection of God, is what will keep him with us forever. And I for one, have found my greatest comfort in one small, yet a poinient final testament to my Grandfather's character: That even as age and disease wore down his body and mind, and slowly eroded his power to speak, the last phrase that he could consistently, coherently eloquate was "I love you."
I truly believe that everyone here today, if asked, would state unequivocally that they were blessed to have had Bob Rohleder as part of their lives, for any number of reasons, big or small. Maybe it was a kind word of advice or a poignant sermon. Maybe he once brought communion to a sick loved one or bailed you out of jail. Maybe it was because thanks to him you got to spend 65 years with the love of your life (love you, Grandma). For me though, I simply feel blessed because I called him “Grandpa”, and he called me “Buddy”.
Love you, Grandpa. Miss you always.
It's 2022. A lot has happened since my last blog post. My wife, son, dog and I have sold our little starter home and bought our new family house. Moving in over the summer, preparing for and releasing my second book in October (Hey, if you haven't ordered your copy of A Perfect Victim yet, head over to the "Buy" tab after you read this), all while chasing around a rambunctious toddler has filled most of my time. The other thing that has dominated my life, and the life of most Americans, is the constant presence of the Covid-19 pandemic. I've done what I could to stay out of the proverbial gladiatorial pit, but it's impossible not to think about. And what better way to return to blogging than to dump all my thoughts onto my website? Oh, this is gonna be fun. I mean, really, what could go wrong?
Some things about myself that are important: Deep down, I have a lot in common with those vocal anti-vaxxers that we all hear about. Throughout my 20s and early 30s, I never took a sick day, laughed at "flu season" and the notion of a flu shot, and firmly believed that my natural immune system protected me better than medicine. I hated prescription drugs (even had a hernia surgery at 23 and stopped taking my pain killers after 2 days, choosing to endure the pain instead of feel drowsy and sick to my stomach), and believed in herbal tea and vitamins over cold medicine.
So what changed? A couple of things. One, I got married and had a kid. Two, I'm in a unique situation where my inner circle of friends consists of a pharmacist, a surgeon, two research PHDs (one of which studies infectious disease), and a wife who is part of the communications department for the local medical college. Information on this novel virus has not been hard to come by. Three, and perhaps more importantly, I've become increasingly aware of this country's disregard of the concept of a social contract.
It's mainly this last point that I want to talk about. I think back to March of 2020 and when we first began to hear about masking, social distancing, and sheltering in place. I confess at this time, despite having a 9 month old child at home and a wife with, albeit minor, asthma, I still said to myself, "Well, I work from home, I only really go out to the grocery store once every week or so, I'll be fine just keeping 6 feet. I'll do with masks like I used to with flu shots: keep them for those who really need them." After all, we can't live in fear, right? When my wife insisted on masking when I was out, I naturally relented. And it wasn't just to keep the peace at home. I followed the CDC guidelines closely and made the decision to follow them. It just made sense.
That's not to say I like wearing masks, especially now that I'm vaccinated and boosted, but I continue to do so as we continue to fight new mutations of the virus. And why? Coming full circle from my point a few paragraphs ago, the social contract. And it is here that I have the biggest problem with the segment of the population who continues to very vocally cast disparagement on the concept of scientific recommendations, mass vaccination, and the current presidential administration. On the surface, I'm not opposed to the concept of bodily autonomy. I don't necessarily like the idea of vaccine mandates, and I can even agree that the CDC and the other medical experts haven't done themselves any favors by changing recommendations as often as they have and getting dragged into the political spotlight.
But here's where I differ from your staunch anti-vaxxers on these points. While I appreciate a person's fundamental rights to not get vaccinated if they so choose, I also appreciate and am in full support of private business and employees enforcing their health and safety policies. And honestly, as this segment of the populace also overlaps quite strongly with the segment that favors pure, unbridled, free market capitalism, these folks should support that too.
On the concept of vaccine mandates, here is where the idea of the social contract comes into play and I'm now going to address my perspective fully on this point. It constantly amazes me how much the American identity has become one of self focus. This myth that America is all about taking care of yourself and not worrying about anyone else's well being is the main reason why we haven't defeated this virus (in my opinion, anyway). When this country, the richest in the world, has had the vaccine for longer than anyone else, has so much extra vaccine that we're basically giving it away to the rest of humanity, and we only have 63% of our population fully vaccinated (where most, if not all, first world countries, all of whom were some 2 months or more behind us in their mass roll outs, have managed to fully vaccinate a higher percentage of their populations than we have), I have to shake my head.
And what are the arguments we here most from those refusing free protection? "I had it, I was fine", "If you're vaccinated, why do you care if I am?", "We can't live in fear". And while they're not coming out and saying it, the subtext (and I'm by no means saying it's intentional) is "I care about me, not you." And there is your problem. There is the breaking of the social contract. In a functional society, the people work together for the COMMON GOOD. And that is why I don't personally feel like the measures I take in public have anything to do with my personal well being. I do these things for others. Because that's what a responsible member of a society does. (Not to get overly preachy, but 22 months of introspection has begun to break my brain).
I'm starting to get a little rambly, so I'll just say this. I have no illusions that a little blog post will change anyone's mind on vaccination and the Covid-19 pandemic in general. I can sit here and make the arguments till I'm blue in the face and answer every bad faith question that the anti-vax community brings up with "You might have had it and been fine, but did you consider that maybe a couple of those people that you breathed on without a mask are in a hospital hooked to a machine or buried in the ground or the toll this cavalier attitude is putting on the healthcare system?," or "getting vaccinated shows others you care for their health and safety," "vaccine mandates wouldn't be necessary if we all just agreed to act for the common good", "a novel virus isn't a school bully that will just go away if you stand up to it and show it you're not afraid of it, its sole function is to survive and by surviving, it kills other living things", "recommendations from the scientific community change because science is not static and we're constantly learning about a virus that has never existed before and questioning the experts is not a crusade against propaganda (*cough* Aaron Rodgers *cough cough*), it is in fact giving into the propaganda machine that is keeping you ignorant," etc. etc. etc.
Unfortunately, while I've used the last few years to try and expand my understanding of medicine, health and the common welfare, these last few years have also strengthened my cynicism that most people in this country are just going to seek out the evidence that falls in line with their own preconceived notions and ignore everything else. And, for the last time I want to make this perfectly clear. I HATE ALL OF THIS. I hate wearing a mask. I hate getting constant pokes in the arm with a needle. I hate not having friends over to watch a Packer game or have dinner and a game night, DESPITE THE FACT THAT WE'RE ALL VAXXED AND BOOSTED! (Sorry again, brain breaking, really want to have a small Super Bowl party with my besties this year, especially if the Packers get there). But, again, sometimes doing what's right for the society as a whole means placing your personal desires last. Sadly, we're where we are because too many of us can't do that. We can't all look at something and agree that the same thing is going on. As the great Louis Black said in an HBO Special nearly 20 years ago: "You can't look at a video of a cat being hit by a car and say 'Oh, well, the cat was trying to commit suicide.'" We're all looking at the same video and a too-large chunk of our society is telling themselves that the cat is trying to kill itself. That's the problem and I, like everyone else, don't have an easy answer.
Except Fuck Covid. Fuck it hard.
In the wake of the two mass shootings last week, we are once again thrust back into the discussion about new gun control legislation with conservatives accusing liberals of overreacting and trying to take all the guns away from law abiding citizens and liberals taking up their eternal call that conservatives are fervently pro-life until the baby is actually born. It's one of the most divisive issues in the country and I often ask myself why. Let's unpack the Second Amendment, sensible gun control measures and how to combat mass shootings.
First, we need to unpack the exact words of The Second Amendment, since the concept that, whatever is in the Constitution goes is paramount to how supporters defend their position. "A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed." That's it. That's the entire Second Amendment. Seems simple. The pro-gun lobby will point to the words "necessary", "security of a free State", and "shall not be infringed" as indisputable proof that guns are not only a right but a necessity to keep the people secure against a tyrannical government. Liberals and those in favor of more gun control will point to the phrase "well regulated Militia" as argument in favor of stricter regulatory measures and as proof that the Second Amendment in its original form is a relic of the past. (We don't have state Militias anymore).
Here's the thing, if you really dissect how the words are written, and bearing in mind the interpretation of retired Supreme Court Justice, John Paul Stevens, the pro-control lobby has a point. The Constitution was written in 1787, and the language of it is not exactly congruent to today. The phrase "regulated Militia" doesn't mean "regulation" like we think of it today, i.e. controlled, etc. Recall that throughout the Revolutionary War, the standing Continental Army was actually very small and much of the fighting force was made up of state Militia units, dubbed "regulars". Additionally, the phrase "State" with the capital S did not mean to the Framers what it means to us today, "The State" being a euphemism for the country as a whole. The original Constitution did not have the 50 state, united nation in mind when it was written. The Founders, in spite of the fact that they were creating a Federal government, still saw the States as a loose confederation and The Second Amendment was specifically written to protect the States from having their Militias disbanded by Congress and left vulnerable to the possibility of a Federal Army taking advantage of them.
Now, there are some people out there who will look at that previous paragraph and say, "You proving my point that guns keep me and my family safe and the Founders are clearly saying so!" Well, random stranger who I just made up in my head, that's not the argument I'm making. The argument I'm making is, we don't live in a world where we have to worry about one state infringing on the rights of another. We are no long that loose confederacy that the Founders envisioned. We no longer say "The United States are...", we say "The United States is...". The world and the country has changed since its founding and the Constitution can, too. It was created with the idea in mind for it to be a living document. In much the same way that a private business kicking a user off its platform for not adhering to their protocols is not a violation of the First Amendment, I don't see certain gun control measures as a violation of the Second. Besides, the Supreme Court already ruled in District of Columbia v. Heller that the Second Amendment upholds all citizens right to bear arms, so relax.
That does bear out the question though: "How do you reconcile gun control measures and laws against infringing on people's rights?" It's a "gotcha" type question that the pro gun lobby always uses, and to this day I can't believe the counter argument isn't presented more often. Laws don't infringe on rights. As a person living in the United States over the age of 16, I have a right to drive a car, but I must first demonstrate my ability to safely handle it by passing a test and getting a license and I have to keep my automobile registered. As a part of my "pursuit of happiness" guaranteed by the Constitution, I am allowed to pursue having a business in Real Estate, but in order to practice, I must again, pass a test, secure my license and continue to maintain said license with continuing education and renewal. And perhaps most baffling, when you really think about it, as a hunter, I am required by law to have a license to pursue that which I want to do with my firearms, but am not required to have a license for the firearm itself. That's like saying I need a license to drive my car around the local racetrack but not on the city streets.
And the thing is, the majority of Americans agree that some form of competent gun reform needs to take place in our country in order to allow for law abiding citizens to continue to pursue their various fire arm hobbies while keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of those who only intend to do harm with them. To me it looks like this: (a) Licensing for all gun owners over the age of 18 to be completed before owning a firearm. (b) All firearms sold in the United States must be registered to a national database. We do it with car titles and registrations, why not guns? (c) Each gun registration is also like a car title in that you register it to its new owner when its sold and, potentially, pay a one time registration fee or tax of, say $75 (again, like a car title transfer). In my view, this will partially close that loophole that many gun control advocates point to; the gun show sellers. By at least documenting what guns are being sold to whom, at minimum we can hopefully at least curb the sale of firearms to those who we would wish to not own them. And think of all the revenue we could generate. Hunting licenses basically provide the budget for the Federal DNR, imagine adding gun licenses to that budget and what that could do at a minimum for the preservation of our natural resources. Or, even better, for funding more firearm education programs. (d) Tighten up criminal punishments for gun related crimes. Example: add harsher mandatory minimum penalties for using a gun in commission of a crime and have steadily increasing penalties if the gun is registered but not to you and even harsher if it is an unregistered/illegal firearm.
But I think the question we have to deal with as a society even more is simply: "Why do you want to own a gun?" And this is coming from a gun owner. My answer is simply, because I like to hunt. I have a 12 gauge shotgun for bird hunting and I have a .308 rifle for deer hunting. They live in the basement, not under my bed and I don't plan on teaching my son about them until he's 12 and can take hunter's safety (if he even shows any interest at all). I know my way around a handgun and am a pretty good shot in a relay, but I don't shoot silhouette targets of people to sharpen my "deadly aim." For me, and I would hope for most, a gun is simply another tool that I use for a specific task. The danger, I believe, comes when a firearm stops being a tool and starts becoming, in its basest form, a means to assert control. I strongly believe that the most ardent pro-gun voices who say any regulation is unacceptable and everyone would be safer if we had universal concealed carry and could execute vigilante style justice when confronted with one of these mass shooter situations are not coming from the purest place. I have argued in the past that inside the genetic make up of all humans lies a primal savageness and innate wish to harm. I know personally there is a reason I in particular do not maintain a concealed carry permit and my home defense weapon of choice against a burglar is a Louisville Slugger. (A) As much as I pride myself on being a safe and responsible gun owner, I know my temper and I recognize the potential of a gun on my hip being the first resort in any top of conflict instead of the last and (B) my primal savageness lends itself more toward personal hand to hand combat anyway. But joking aside, the question that every gun owner has to ask is "Do I want to own this thing for the right reasons?" or is there that innate little voice that tells you "This hunk of metal is the real equalizer. With this, you never have to be afraid. With this, you can be God"?
Because that's the last thing about guns. They have the ability to cause great harm, pain, and loss of life, but they do it at a distance. And it's in this that we have to examine the psychology of a mass shooter versus any other form of mass murderer. One of the Sheriffs in Georgia was criticized last week for saying that the guy who went in and shot up 3 separate Asian massage parlors was "having a bad day." A callus sounding thing to be sure, but when you think about it, not entirely inaccurate. From my research into various serial killers for my novels, I have come to the conclusion that these individuals kill to satisfy something inside themselves. And it's not something that can be helped by any amount of therapy or medication. Mass shooting, on the other hand, I would argue is usually the result of a build-up things that explodes in one horrific act, with no real plan and no real desire to survive the encounter. It's the difference between Ted Bundy craftily stalking and strangling women for years and a guy taking an AR-15 into a Denver theater and opening fire. The intimacy of seeing life leave the body versus shooting "paper targets". Mass shooters don't, in my opinion, kill out of need. They kill because there is something else inside of them that might have been otherwise treated if we were only paying attention.
And that's the final point. Pro-gun advocates want to sit in committee in the Senate and scream about doing things that make sense rather than a "liberal wish list", then how about we stop stigmatizing mental illness and reach out and help the next person before he goes out and mows down a group of people? I strongly believe that funding more community outreach programs and making counselors and therapists more readily available to those in need of such things would do monumental good, not just in the prevention of more of these events, but for the health of our society in general. We should never underestimate the value of listening and feeling listened to.
But that's just the take of one hippie-dippy liberal gun-owner. What do you think? Is this all just a lost cause? Is the occasional mass shooting just the price we have to pay to maintain the status quo as it relates to our Second Amendment rights? Or do you agree that we can maintain the spirit of the Constitution while still installing some common sense safe guards in our laws?
I don't write comfortable fiction. Certainly, I wouldn't recommend anyone under the age of, say, 16(?) read it at least. The themes that I explore, especially when it comes to the brutality that one person is capable of inflicting on another, isn't, to the outside observer, congruent with the man you'd imagine raising a son with all the love and tenderness that he is capable of. There would seem to be a disconnect there, yes? Well, let's unpack.
I will acknowledge that the deep recesses of my imagination are home to some pretty dark things. In stepping into the world that I inhabit, I became very interested in the motivations of people. Why do they do what they do? Especially when it comes to the commission of atrocities against their fellow human beings. Who hurt you, Adolf? Do you really hate glasses that much, Pol Pot? Donald, why do you and seventy million of your friends think that red hat looks so cool? Okay that last one is really only about the killing of morals and not people, but the point stands. Inside every person, I firmly believe, there is a savageness. I personally, believe myself perfectly capable of extreme violence if it meant defending my wife and son from harm. But, then, I've always thought that about myself, so in this case, no, becoming a father hasn't really changed me at all.
That's not to say that a change hasn't come over me in the 21 months my son has been on this earth. From the moment I first held him I was a different person. Up until that point, for the entirety of my adulthood, I was very guarded with my feelings. That is not to say unfriendly, but I spent so much time as a volatile teenager (to my detriment) that I worked for years (mostly after college) to refine my emotional reactions to things in order to try and maintain an outward even keel. Don't get me wrong, I'm still a roiling sea of feeling under the surface, both positive and negative, but for the most part, I was able to remain in a state of constant meditative stoicism. I don't recall a tear falling from my eyes between the age of 19 and 31. (Someone will probably fact check me on that). Now here I am, soon to be 36 and thanks to my little boy, things that used to bring a lump to my throat that I could push back down after a moment now have me blinking and digging a fist into my eye. After months of attempts, I still can't make it through singing him "Puff The Magic Dragon" without having to stop and collect myself as my voice waivers. When the Capital was attacked on January 6th, I picked him up and burst into tears. And every little new thing that he does brings me more joy than hitting the Best Seller list. Some might lament the idea that once you become a parent, your life is no long your own. I don't. It's the greatest thing I could ask for.
So, did having a child affect me as a writer? Short answer: I really don't know. I have a lot less time to write, that's for damn sure. Even banging this blog post out took several pauses to make sure he at least stayed where I could see him. What I know for sure is that becoming a father undoubtedly changed me as a person and I can't imagine it wouldn't have an effect on my writing. But since I'm incredibly close to my work, it's possible I'll never see it. I don't want to change subjects. To the contrary, exploring the themes that I do becomes even more important because when you imagine the things that happen to characters in my books happening to your own child, it makes you that much more committed to ensuring that the villain gets what's coming to them in the end.
But, you, the readers will be the real judges. For perspectives sake, Unholy Shepherd was written before my son was born. A Perfect Victim was written after. You'll have to tell me if anything changed.
The last blog post I did was pretty serious in nature and, while I will be focusing a lot of my blogging efforts on literary analyses, my views on what's going on in our modern world, and the like, I thought it would be fun to sprinkle in some different content from time to time. Considering that The Demon Sight is centered on a concept that usually exists outside the "norm", I believe it would be both appropriate and enjoyable to take time to discuss other paranormal, cryptozoological, and spiritual questions that we come face to face with in our lives. These are my opinions and are not meant to indicate any sort of expertise on any of these topics. Okay, let's have fun with: Bigfoot!
For most people my age, Bigfoot is associated with those pseudo-scientific television shows that rely heavily on big starring personalities with little regard for method and research. Every piece of information they look at is conclusive proof (it's a real problem in this country on many different topics, but I digress). The shows, which fill cable television channels that used to be a source of actual educational programming (cough, cough, not naming names), last for an hour and in the end, the outcome is always the same. We believe it's there, but we didn't get any conclusive evidence. This time. (Or, "well clearly this, this, and this - which any person with three brain cells to rub together can tell isn't enough to provide any conclusion - is proof!").
The thing is, I LOVE watching those shows. And I love watching them for one simple reason: I can't get enough of criticizing their "scientific method" and clever editing. This is not for the reason you may be thinking. Quite the opposite actually. I do believe there is enough compelling evidence of non-human bipedal primates, especially in remote areas of the Pacific Northwest and the island rain forests around Indonesia. And there are plenty of scientists who openly believe that more research into the legend is warranted. Chief among them, for all Squatchers out there, is, of course, Dr. Jeff Meldrum, a professor of anthropology specializing in the study of the human evolution of bipedal locomotion. Put simply, this guy has spent his life studying why we walk on two legs. In his book, Sasquatch: Legend Meets Science, describes the certain supporting evidence in the over 300 foot casts that he has collected showing foot morphology containing a flatter sole (a creature that size wouldn't have an arch) that still contains a mid-tarsal break which allows for enough flexibility to walk an two legs. Dermal ridges (fingerprints for feet) and longer toes for gripping rough terrain are also observed. These particular specimens, he says, represent those that he's studied that cannot be debunked as forgeries or misidentification of a known animal (think bear's back paw stepping into its front paw to create something that looks like one big human-like print).
Next, we have to consider the lore of the indigenous peoples. Legends of large, hairy men in the forest have existed in their culture for hundreds if not thousands of years, even occurring in cave paintings next to known animals like deer and foxes. The fossil record indicates the existence of Gigantopithecus living in Eastern Asian around the time of the Bering Land Bridge and it is not outside the realm of possibility that they crossed with the early ancestors of modern humans, evolving separately in the remote forests. And science has proven a real world analog for the Indonesian legend of Orang Pendek (short person) in the fossils of Homo floresiensis, often called, "the real hobbit". The name Sasquatch is derived from the Halkomelem tongue of the first peoples of the Pacific Northwest. Many of these people even believe that Sasquatch is a benevolent protector of nature. I like to think they're right.
And, of course, discussion wouldn't be complete without touching on the Patterson Film. This has become, perhaps, the most scrutinized film in all of zoology (crypto or otherwise). For me, listening to locomotion and kinesiology experts give testimony on the near impossibility of faking the creature's distinctive gait and film experts enhancing the 16mm film to be able to discern breasts on the subject and muscle movement beneath the fur give me plenty of reason to accept the authenticity of the film. John Chambers, Academy Award winning artist responsible for the movable faces for Planet of the Apes has stated that he is "good, but not that good," when asked if he created a suit for Patterson. Additionally, no other Hollywood design company has claimed responsibility for creating a suit, though many state they could, but at a price tag of at least $10,000 (far more than Patterson could have afforded). Now, this is not to say there aren't problems. First off, Roger Patterson set out to Bluff Creek that day to specifically film a Bigfoot movie he hoped to sell to a production company. Patterson was also known as a bit of a story-teller and a huckster. He also died in 1972, so he never had the opportunity to really be questioned over a period of time. His partner that day, Bob Gimlin, on the other hand, notes that they never made any money from the film and, despite severe damage to his own reputation, asserted that they had seen what they filmed for the next 40 years of his life. I don't see a reason for Gimlin to lie. His friend and partner was dead, he didn't want the notoriety, and yet he sticks to the story. I still look at the film with a skeptical eye, always trying to find something new that can conclusively disprove it. I just haven't found that smoking gun yet.
So there you have it. We could go further into the Shipton photos in the Himalayas or the reports of the government relocating a family of Bigfoot during the Mount St. Helen's explosion, but that would go on forever. Is Bigfoot real? I think there's a very good possibility. When you think about the hundreds or thousands of new animals being discovered every year and consider the sheer wilderness that is still out there undiscovered, you can't help but wonder what we will find in the future. After all, the gorilla was thought to be a myth until the early 1900s. What else is out there?
In case you've been living under a rock for the last few weeks, it was announced by Dr. Seuss Enterprises that they had decided to cease production of 6 books deemed to contain racist/culturally insensitive imagery. The firestorm of backlash on this decision from certain outlets (mainly conservative, and mainly, let's be honest, being used as a distraction tactic while the current Administration passes the much-needed relief bill) gave me pause to consider what was actually going on. Are we, as a society, descending into authoritarian rule where thoughts can't be expressed for fear of censorship? Are a beloved children's author's First Amendment Rights being ruthlessly trampled on? Is Dr. Seuss another victim of "Cancel Culture"? Dear God, where does it end?!?!?!?!
I'll take those last two first. Uh...No. I mean, duh, right? The pragmatic answer is, of course, that a) this was a decision made by the very foundation whose mission is to "preserve the legacy of Dr. Seuss" and b) the government had nothing to do with it (which is the very definition of the First Amendment, i.e. "Congress shall make no law infringing upon...blah, blah, blah"). Dr. Seuss Enterprises, after over a year of consideration, research, and consultations with experts, made the decision - feeling that this was the best way to uphold the legacy of Theodore Geisel in these modern times - to cease publication of those 6 books (which, I might remind you, are not exactly among his top sellers. Sure, Mulberry Street is referenced in Oh The Places You'll Go but other than that I hadn't heard of or read any of the others. Despite what certain government officials will have you believe, Green Eggs and Ham, isn't going anywhere, folks!). Also, note they said they will cease publication and sales. Guess what? Despite the rhetoric of certain dissenters, there will not be a mass confiscation and ritualistic burning of all previously published copies of these books. So don't worry, if you really feel the need to "exercise your free speech" and show your toddlers those dated caricatures of Chinese and African people, there's still Amazon.
So that's the Seuss issue in a nutshell, but what about the claim that this is "just the tip of the iceberg [for what the "radical left" want]" or "now that we've cancelled Dr. Seuss, who's next?" Well, to my mind, these questions that typify this situation reach down to a much deeper issue. And that is: Are we allowed, either as authors, writers, or, even more broadly, as society in general, to change our minds about things, especially things we ourselves have created? Are we allowed to grow and progress in our thinking, embracing new ideas and leaving behind others? Let's take, for example, perhaps one of the most controversial books in American Literature, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. There are, to my mind, two schools of thought on this book. Some literary scholars would argue that, knowing Mark Twain's views on slavery and given that the rest of the novel satirizes the parts of society around him that he found absurd, he employed the use of N-word as much as he did to point out the absurdity of white people conferring that sort of title on a black man. Others would simply point out that he was using language of an archaic time that has no place being taught in the modern classroom. (For the record, 20 years ago, when I read it in my high school English class, the first school of though was taught and for the most part are class did not have a problem with this explanation. I personally, at the time as now, despise that word and am very uncomfortable saying it - often mumbling it when it was my turn to read out loud in class. That word along with a certain derogatory for a woman beginning with C are two words a cannot force myself to say aloud in any circumstance). Still, no matter what your stance, you'd have to agree that the book is polarizing to say the least, and I would accept the notion that we don't need to teach it in the classroom anymore. Despite all the controversy of one book, though, Mark Twain is still a giant of Literature and has never been anything but respected for his talent as a writer, and, for the time period in which he lived anyway, a fairly progressive thinker.
So maybe that's the answer. Maybe intent is the key. Maybe if we argue that if certain words and images that, as we as a society grow more attuned and empathetic to the feelings of others, are deemed offensive, racist, misogynistic, etc, are used with the intent by the creator of an artistic media to draw attention to and critique elements of society that they find unacceptable or abhorrent, that they can remain in the zeitgeist while the works containing the same words and images which were created to demonize and disparage those to whom they are targeted or whip up sentiment against said people (think Mein Kampf) can (and should) be removed from polite society. And, maybe, just maybe, in the case where, like here with Dr. Seuss, the artist (or those representing the artist in terms of legacy) have themselves grown to have a deeper understanding of the evolving nature of the world and decides to self-censor some of their past works in the name of progress and a feeling of moral obligation to themselves and others, we can all just shut up and let them manufacture their work as they see fit. The distillation of a few works does not constitute the expulsion of the whole. After all, the Seuss Enterprise took it upon themselves several years ago to paint over a long-standing mural at the Seuss Museum in Springfield due to its portrayal of a negative Asian stereotype and yet, the American Library Association still names their yearly award for the book deemed "the most distinguished American book for beginning readers" the Geisel Award. As for DSE themselves, all you have to do is read directly from their official statement regarding the closing of publication on the certain books to understand their intent, stating it is "committed to listening and learning and will continue to review our portfolio."
The real point is this: No one who is raising arguments against Dr. Seuss Enterprises is actually concerned about the "integrity" of the work itself. What they are concerned about is they see this as another threat to their authority and power within our society. It's about using the right words to whip up a large enough segment of society to hopefully hold back the tide of progress that the next generation is threatening to sweep them away with and keep our country firmly planted in 1981. Any pretensions otherwise are disingenuous to say the least.
There is plenty more that could be said but I'll close by posing the following questions. Should artists be able to alter or erase their work as they see fit? And if the minds and sentiments of a society as a whole are shifting in a different direction, is it really detrimental for artists to adjust previously completed works as well? Or, are the conservatives right and are we becoming too soft and if you can't take certain words and images, you're simply a weak-minded, overly-sensitive person and need to "get over it"? I think it's fairly obvious where I stand, but I'd like to hear from you. Comment below.
When I sat down to write my first novel, I realized one thing very quickly. I had NO idea how to write a novel. The accepted school, I would suppose, according to my high school English classes, would be to do the following: Establish your concept, prepare a preliminary outline, do some research, refine and finalize the outline, write, edit, re-write, final edit, hand in. I mean, it works with research papers, right? I wrote dozens of them throughout my scholastic career and used this model successfully for all of them. The problem is, writing fiction isn't writing a scholastic work. There are dozens of ways to produce a manuscript according to what I've read. When Tolkien sat down to write Lord Of The Rings, it's well-known that it took him 12 years to finish because he simply began to write, and wrote and wrote flow of conscious until he got stuck, then scrapped the whole thing and started over, repeating the process until it was finished, then threatened the Wrath of Eru on anyone who tried to edit it. I follow Brandon Sanderson on Twitter and he gives updates on his novel progress as xxxx/xxxxx words completed, indicating that he's pre-planned his novels down to the letter and deviates from it very little if at all. George RR Martin? Who knows. Stephen King, I swear, that man can think up, write and publish a novel in one bathroom trip.
As for me, when I write - being firmly entrenched in the TV generation - I picture the scene as though I'm watching it play out in crime procedural on television and then simply write down what I see in my mind. (After all, we all fantasize about our work being picked up by Netflix or Amazon Prime and optioned for media rights. It's natural). I began Unholy Shepherd as a series of tent pole scenes that I knew needed to happen in the confines of the story and I wrote those. They were in no particular order, though I had a general idea of where they needed to happen. The climax is always easy to set in stone and I wrote it early on. Knowing who did it and why and how they are brought down, at least in my mind, makes creating the rest of the narrative leading up to the final pages much easier. Once I had those pages (some 50 to 70 manuscript pages worth) nailed down, I actually went back to my initial concept and fleshed out a beefed up version of what might look like the back cover summary of the novel as a whole. I went through and named the important characters and jotted down important character details, some lines of dialogue that I knew I wanted to use somewhere in the book but just didn't have a place for yet, and outlined a rough chronology of events. Then I put it aside for a few days because each time I tried to force words from my brain into my fingertips poised over the keyboard, nothing seemed to flow.
I've never had any problem coming up with ideas. Each time I had one, I'd excitedly run to my computer, open up my outline document and type it in below the last one (or punch it into my phone's notes app). So somewhere in that jumbled mess of notes and sentence fragments, I had a story. Not only that, I found I had begun to think beyond the first novel, and this was the time I began thinking about where the series as a whole would go, developed a story concept for each subsequent novel, and began to write in plot points and concepts into Shepherd that I wanted to pay off in the future. But I was still stagnant on the actual novel.
And so I made the decision to show a couple of the early chapters to some of my friends and family. When they read it and excitedly told me they were dying to know what was going to happen, it gave me the boost I needed to buckle down. It took me 13 months total to write Shepherd (which most writing advice blogs and online articles will tell you is WAY too long for a 100,000 word book, but, f- 'em, right?), but at least 3/4 of it was written between Christmas of 2018 and the end of March 2019. I credit the rush of positive reinforcement, but also the impending birth of my son, as motivation. During this time, as I got more and more chapters hammered out, the final picture of the work finally emerged and I went back to my outline document and finally charted what each chapter would be, whose POV it would be from, etc. In this way, I was finally able to stitch the book together in a cohesive narrative.
When I wrote my second book, A Perfect Victim (look for it around Halloween this year! Buy it! Buy all my books! Send my kid to college!), I made the conscious decision to learn from what I believed were "deficiencies" in my work flow. Believing I was taking the advice of my editor (i.e. "show don't tell", watch your stupendously long sentence structure, etc.) I made the fateful decision to self edit as I wrote, trying to curb my flowery use of descriptive words and phrases that led to my editor editing out nearly 20,000 words of my original manuscript for Shepherd. And I tried to write the book in order. It took me 11 months to finish. The result was a 95,000 word manuscript for Victim where very little was cut out, but it took a massive re-write after the first edit to actually knock it into a logical, readable manuscript and I actually ended up disliking it for a long time until my publisher informed me that they liked it.
The lesson in all of this: There's no "right" way to write a novel. There's what works for you and what doesn't. For me it's simply writing the parts that are most clear in my mind at the beginning. And I do this, weirdly enough, mainly on my morning and evening walks with my dog. In that silent time, when I'm not chasing around a toddler, cooking for the family, or running errands, I retreat into my imagination and "watch" the television show in my mind that is the next book. As I repeat this over several days, the tent pole scenes solidify in my mind and are ready to put to paper. Then I do my research on the certain details that are important to the plot and ensure that my suppositions of how they work in real life are appropriately represented. Then I sketch out the full plot line and the I repeat my visualizing/writing/research process until I have a full book. When I hit a wall with a certain scene, I either just leave a couple of spaces on the page and go on to the next part that is more clear in my mind, or move on to another part of the book that I have an idea for. If I get stuck there, I go back or start another chapter. I'm 30,000 words into my third novel, Tag, and I have some dozen chapters, not all of which are fully complete, but I'm less stressed than before and the ideas are flowing much freer. I'm excited to finish and have it out next year.
So, there you go. My "Process". It's not exactly a study in efficiency, but it is my own. I don't think I could learn to do it any other way, nor do I recommend any other writers to do what I do. Whenever someone asks me how to write a book, I just say, "Just write it." In my experience, everything else involved in creating a book takes care of itself once you get the damn thing on paper.
But, hey, that's just me. What do you think? Would you use my method to write your own book? Do I just make it sound like I'm just a dog chasing a car with no real plan? Comment below.
I don't know if you noticed or not, but I am a man. A straight, white, American male. True, I like to cook, 5 days a week I serve as primary care giver to my son, I do the shopping and dishes, and I make way less money than my wife, but I also love football, boxing, hunting and Stars both Wars and Trek. Still, despite my interests being quite renaissance in nature, the idea of using a female as the central protagonist of a modern suspense series is quite the unique undertaking for a male author. Many would cock an eyebrow at the audacity of such an act. For all intents and purposes, I'm too old to be considered a true Millennial, so the idea that I'd have been exposed to the type of empathetic and progressive thought that many older individuals often - with more than a whiff of condescension - associate with said generation is debatable.
So the question remains: Why try to write from the point of view of a woman if you're a male? The answer could be multifaceted. Maybe I was looking for a challenge. Maybe I simply believed a female would make for a more believable psychic. (After all, society tends to think of woman as the more empathetic of the species lending to more credibility.) My adolescent crushes were Sarah Michelle Geller's Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly's River Tam. (Yeah, I love Joss Whedon's badass female characters. I don't condone the way the man himself treated the actresses, but the intellectual creations stand on their own merit.) So maybe I was creating another version of my high school dream girl? Well, in actuality, the answer is a lot simpler.
Maureen is, in her simplest form, a amalgamated tribute to several other characters in art and in my own life. In her first incarnation, Maureen was going to be able to talk to cryptically speaking murder victims in her dreams, akin to Jennifer Love Hewitt's character in Ghost Whisperer. One of my favorite book series (second only to LOTR) is Wheel of Time and I was always a fan of how Robert Jordan turned conventional fantasy tropes on their heads and made females the primary heads of state and household in his world. The feminine prowess was embodied no greater than in his Aes Sedai, the ageless women with access to the "One Power" - the mystical, magical force that allows them to do any number of supernatural things. Maureen's name is in fact a direct tribute to one of these characters, Moiraine Damodred (who I am personally very excited to see Rosamund Pike portray in the Amazon series). And her physical description is modeled very closely to what I imagine my step-mother would have looked like in her 20s and 30s.
But, then, you may ask, if I have such an affinity for strong female characters, why does it seem that I put Maureen through so much shit? Well, simply put, I also have much stronger affinity for flawed characters. I find them more true to life. We all have our virtues. We are all broken in certain ways. As I stated in an earlier post, when I think of what a real clairvoyant would be or act like, I would think of someone who was carrying a burden that they would wish they could be rid of. I decided to have Maureen persecuted and broken by her formative years so that the any growth (and admittedly the personal growth will be small and incremental in nature because, let's be real, if you went through what she did and lived like she did for over a quarter of a century, would two weeks in a random Missouri town really make you just do and about face on your outlook of life?) really makes the reader feel something.
In the end, I don't necessarily view The Demon Sight as a female supernatural mystery series. It's the story of a person who happens to have supernatural abilities, just happens to end up using them to help solve crimes, and just happens to be a woman. It is not, nor has it ever been, my intention to turn Maureen into some kind of superhero or Deus Ex Machina for law enforcement. The series is a story of a person accepting her place in the world, growing, learning to trust, and slowly making her way to becoming whole. She might never get there - and she will certainly never drop her acerbic ways - but the journey is what is important.
Being that my current authorial milieu is suspense and mystery, one would be forgiven for believing that I devour mystery novel after mystery novel in my free time, searching for inspiration, etc. In point of fact, I actually read very little in the way of thrillers or mystery novels. To date, I've read three of Dan Brown's novels and a smattering of others. I've never read Stephen King or John Grisham. Can't ever recall cozying up with a James Patterson or Lee Child novel. So, why do I not read the genre that I write? On some level, it's to avoid being overly influenced by other writers and find my own voice. On another, I am such a consumer of true crime that I find myself over-analyzing most mysteries that I read to the point where it almost prevents me from enjoying the book.
So what do I like? Simply put: Give me swords, spears, bows and arrows and I'm a happy boy. Add in comprehensive world building, and I'm in heaven. And of course, this means that my god in this regard is J.R.R. Tolkien. I was barely 5 the first time my father sat down with me to read that funny titled book that I had seen around the house which I thought was a misspelling of my name. (Cuz on the old paperback, it really looked like - to my naive child's eyes, anyway - that the cover artist had meant to write Robbie and not Hobbit). By the time I was 8, our bedtime ritual revolved around jumping in bed and working our way through Lord of the Rings. Soon I was reading both books at least once a year (and still do to this day) and delving into the rest of the Tolkien mythology, familiarizing myself with the material to the point where I honestly believe I could interview to be Stephan Colbert's best friend and often argue out loud with certain Tolkien YouTubers' interpretation of the work. (To the mild bemusement of my wife). The world of Middle Earth served as a gateway to Wheel of Time and, naturally, eventually to A Song of Ice and Fire.
However, I don't just crave fantasy novels. I also enjoy historical fiction. History in itself is really just a story that we all agree on. History is not always fact and even facts aren't always true. So it's great to sit down and read an exciting novel that is set in a real historical period and, while you know the author made up what you're reading, if you have any scholastic knowledge of the events in question, you can almost allow yourself to imagine that you are reading a true account of historical events. The undisputed king of this, in my humble opinion, is Bernard Cornwell. Being that I have an affinity for Anglo European History, I have read the entire Saxon Tales Series (the basis for Netflix's series The Last Kingdom) and The Archer Tales, set during the Hundred Years War. The Warlord Chronicles, a re-imagining of Arthurian Legends, is likely up next, though I believe I will be skipping The Richard Sharpe novels, as I don't actually share the same interest in the Napoleonic Era as I do in other eras of Britain.
Aside from that, I tend to steer toward satire, history, and even politics in moderation. I believe I may have singlehandedly kept Cracked open for years and even toyed with trying to become a contributor. (Further research into stories of those who had done the same convinced me to reconsider). I'm currently reading First Principles by Thomas E. Ricks which discusses the education of our first 4 presidents and discusses the neo-classical influences on their thoughts which embedded themselves in the fabric of our government. It's pretty interesting, though, spending most of the time I'm not writing chasing around a 20 month old toddler means reading is basically confined to my morning constitutionals.
So that's about it. What are your favorite books? Would it offend your sensibilities to learn that I've never read a single Harry Potter book? Comment below.
I don't just write novels. I just like to write. This blog will not be polished, it won't be edited closely. There will be spelling and grammar errors and it might drag on in places. But it will be fun, off the cuff, genuine, and hopefully interesting to read!