Fathers Day Ruminations

David L. Henderson

My father, pre-me

That picture to the right is of my father, David L. Henderson. We lost him in 1987, after a year-long battle with lung cancer. He was fifty when he died, about six months before his fifty-first birthday.

I turned fifty earlier this year, and the significance of that is not lost on me.

He was born on November 20, 1936 to my grandparents Charlie (“Paw-Paw”) and Sue (“Meme”) (Drummond) Henderson. By the time he came along, he was the youngest of four (it would have been five if their brother Harold hadn’t died before Daddy was born, which would have made him fifth), and there were four more after him, for a total of eight who lived to adulthood.

They all lived in Eutaw, Alabama, which, at the time, had a population a bit larger than it has, now. Eutaw is a very small town. Probably no more than 2500 people at any given time, if I had to guess. I was raised there, as well.

I’ve heard many, many stories about my father as a young man, and hear more every time there’s a family gathering. Some of those include a memorable story of him and his next-oldest brother, Jesse James, destroying a not insignificant part of a neighboring farmer’s corn field, and being whipped with a razor strop when their father found out. Of him getting hit so hard while playing football in high school that he blacked out and didn’t remember playing the rest of the game, then nearly punched his father later that evening when he was awakened, because he still thought he was on the field. Of him and Jesse fighting pretty much continuously, only the way brothers separated by a year or so can. Of how he lost the hearing in his left ear completely thanks to an ear infection when he was about twelve years old.

But, as I said, those are stories of young David. He would turn 29 the year I was born, although he was only 28 on that particular, momentous day.

I am told that my mother went into labor the morning of April 9, 1965, and called my father to tell him. Daddy had several sisters (not to mention sisters-in-law, aunts, cousins, neighbors, and extended family) and a mother who had given birth during his lifetime to that point. He knew it wasn’t a quick thing. So (again, I’m told) he wasn’t in a particular hurry to come home from whatever building site he was working that day. So it was that my mother walked by herself to the hospital (it was across the road, not five miles uphill through snow) and had me after about an hour of labor. Did my mother ever, ever let him forget this? I’ll let you imagine the answer.

Speaking of my birth, leading up to that occasion, there was some discussion of what my name should be. The very first thing that got vetoed was me being a Jr. or II. Daddy’s full name was David Lamb Henderson. “Lamb” was a family name. He didn’t want to saddle me with a name guaranteed to make me the target of every bully, ever. So my middle name is David, and I got ‘Gary’ as a first name because my mother (a teacher at the time) had never had a student named Gary. (Yes, really.)

The earliest memories I have are all from around the time I was three or four, and we lived in a small, three-bedroom house on the busiest street in Eutaw. Other memories I have are probably because people have told me about them, because I was far too young to remember events this clearly.

I vaguely recall doing something colossally stupid — leaving the house unsupervised to go visit a friend who had a new swingset — and getting three spankings: one from the housekeeper/nanny who was looking after me, one from my mother, and then one from Daddy when he got home.

Yes, I was spanked. With a belt, when he did it. And I pretty much deserved it every time it was done. We didn’t call it “child abuse” back then. We called it “teaching us not to ever do that again.” It worked.

When I was about four years old, we moved from that busy street to a very quiet neighborhood with a huge yard. I remember visiting the site while Daddy and his crew built that house. My name is carved somewhere on a concrete slab in that house. Maybe the carport, maybe the basement. But it’s there.

Daddy was a carpenter for as long as I knew him. He worked at Henderson Construction Company until I was a teenager. His boss until then was his uncle Wilson Henderson. Daddy had a small crew and they did it all: foundation, slab, frame, roof, finishing. He contracted out the plumbing and the electrical stuff, but the rest of it was all him and his crew. They worked insanely long days, and I seldom saw him when he wasn’t wearing khakis, usually dripping sweat. He and Uncle Wilson had a . . . disagreement when I was in my early teens and Daddy quit and formed his own company, David Henderson Construction Company. With the same crew, doing the same thing. But without Wilson as a boss.

He wasn’t schooled as a carpenter, however. His college degree was in accounting. My mother has told me that soon after he graduated, he had a job offer from an accountant firm in Arkansas, in what amounted to a big city, as well as an offer from an architectural firm somewhere else, but for that, he would have to learn to fly. He turned them both down and went back home to Eutaw to start his family.

Why? Family was very important to Daddy. He was one of eight children. His parents were each one of at least that many. He grew up with dozens of cousins, second cousins, and third cousins. Uncles and aunts abounded. Most of them lived in Eutaw or in the area of the neighboring “big city” of Tuscaloosa. He wanted his future children to grow up in that. To know and appreciate that closeness.

I was supposed to be the first of three children, but apparently was also the reason they stopped at one. :) As far as I can calculate, I am the single only child in something like four or five generations of the Henderson / Drummond family.

So his decision not to raise me in a big city, out of touch with my extended family, completely changed his life, my mother’s, and mine. Instead of going to public school in a city with hundreds of other kids I didn’t know, I went to a private school in a small town with a couple of dozen other kids whom I got to know intimately over time.

He was well-liked in the city. I know he worked on many, many houses in Eutaw and the surrounding communities. He either built them from the ground up or repaired them or expanded them. Or, occasionally, moved them from one location to another. Everyone knew him. I wasn’t “Gary” to anyone over the age of 30. I was “David’s son.” (Or “Charlie and Sue’s grandson by David.”)

Daddy was awesome at math. I remember going to him in high school for help with some math homework, and he showed me a shortcut to solve it. I did my homework and took it to school the next day. The math teacher asked me after class how I got the answers, because my “show your work” was, like, one line instead of a page for each problem. I showed her the shortcut Daddy had shown me, and she looked at for a long time, and then said, “Do me a favor and keep this to yourself.” I think maybe she wanted the class to learn to do it the right way, and not via shortcut. Or maybe she just didn’t know how she would teach it to the whole class.

I saw him eyeball angles and saw wood for picture frames, and the pieces would fit perfectly. He calculated heights using shadows and the angle of the sun, demonstrating to me the practical uses of trigonometry. Whatever math ability I might have is entirely from his genes. (Just ask my mother.)

He liked music and could whistle and sing very well, although not many people knew it. When we went to church, you had to be standing right next to him to hear his voice, which was always on key. When we were in the car, he’d sometimes whistle, and he did it flawlessly. Not really surprising considering how musical his entire family is.

Greene County Golf Course near Eutaw, Alabama

Greene County Golf Course near Eutaw, Alabama

One of his off-time passions was golf. Greene County (of which Eutaw is the county seat) has a golf course. It was a pretty simple course with no sand traps, and only one real hazard: a lake you had to cross for the 8th and 9th holes (it only had 9 holes; if you wanted to play 18 holes, you went around twice). He would play at every possible opportunity. And when he wasn’t playing golf, he was watching it on television.

My mother and I tried to share in his passion for the game. We went with him and attempted to enjoy it. I had special clubs for someone my age. My mother had clubs her size, as well. But neither of us really had our hearts in the game. Eventually, he just went by himself to play with his golf buddies and we stayed home to pursue our own passions.

I recall an incident that happened on the course’s driving range. All three of us were there, and my mother and I were practicing our swings while Daddy “supervised.” Some other people were also on the driving range, practicing. I heard one of them hit the ball and then heard a sharp SLAP sound just to my left. I turned, and Daddy had stuck out his hand and caught that other person’s golf ball just before it slammed into the side of my head. That would have hurt. I’m glad he had the reflexes of a mongoose on that day.

Another of his passions was gardening. Behind my grandmother’s house in Eutaw was probably an acre (I’m bad at estimating area, so it could be a lot more or a lot less) of garden, which he kept tended beautifully. If he wasn’t working one someone’s house or golfing, he was probably over at his mother’s house tending the garden. Tomatoes, potatoes, okra, peas, beans, squash, cucumbers, strawberries, corn, watermelons . . . if you can eat it, he probably grew it at one time or another. Many was the time he’d come home from the garden with a truckload (this is not an exaggeration, but a statement of fact) of fresh vegetables, which he would then leave scattered all over the kitchen counters . . . and then go play golf and leave my mother to deal with. But that’s a whole different story for another day. :) (It also contains bad words, the way my mother tells it.)

He also used to watch “pro wrestling,” knowing it was fake, but enjoying it nevertheless. He enjoyed football and boxing. I don’t remember him getting all that excited about baseball or basketball. But he also deferred to my mother when she wanted to watch something other than sports. I got my own little twelve-inch color TV for my room because he was tired of having to compete against cartoons and sitcoms and Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street to just watch a round of golf.

Daddy also joined a group of local men who got together weekly to play dominoes. I think it was mostly an excuse for the men to go somewhere without their wives and kids and gossip. Oh, um . . . not “gossip,” because men would never call it do that. They’d probably say “shoot the breeze.” Yes, that’s it. Shoot the breeze. Anyway, I went with him a time or two, but it was just way too loud and smokey in there for me to enjoy. I never knew quite what he got out of it, but it was something he enjoyed doing. I’m sure there was absolutely no gambling involved, either. Nope. None. At. All. Poker is gambling. Dominoes is just, you know . . . a game. Of skill. With little bits of ceramic with pips on them, totally unlike cards or dice in every possible way. :)

He was an honest businessman who took pride in his work, and tried to give his clients the best. I was with him one day when he was tallying up the bill for a client, and after he added up the time for all the crew and the materials, it came out to an even amount. Something like $4000.00. I saw him write down $4000.07 on the invoice. I asked him why he added the extra seven cents. “Because if they see an even dollar amount, it looks like I just estimated and put down a figure, and they’ll argue. But if it comes out a little above or below, they know it’s an exact amount and that I didn’t pull it out of thin air.” Just little stuff like that.

One of my mother’s favorite stories about Daddy is when an elderly lady who lived across from the park in an old house with a white picket fence called him to do some work. He had done things for her since he was just a boy. He went and did whatever it was she needed. It took most of a Saturday morning. She paid him with a coconut cake. He didn’t argue with her; he just took the cake home.

He cleaned up scrupulously all during the day during jobs. I know because I worked (very briefly) for him one (1) summer and discovered that I was not cut out to be a carpenter. I was the designated cleaner upper. I’d no sooner finish sweeping up all the sawdust than they’d crank up the table saw again. As I said, I didn’t last long. Whether this disappointed him, I don’t know. I do know he didn’t pressure me into going into his business, whether that be accounting or carpentry. Maybe because he knew I wasn’t cut out for it, or maybe because he just wanted me to find my own way.

I did, of course, play at being a carpenter when I was young. He would give me wood and nails and a hammer and let me just nail them all over. He let me saw scrap lumber. But he never let me near the table saw or anything dangerous. And he used our uncle Buck (Morris Roebuck) as an example of why: Buck was missing part of one finger, and I was told it was because of a table saw. That may or may not be true; I’ve never verified it.

When the customer was himself — or more appropriately, my mother — he was even more attentive to little details. I remember leaving one morning to go to school. My mother would drop me off at school in Eutaw, then drive to a neighboring county to where she worked. After school, I’d either stay with one of my classmates, whose mother kept an eye on several of us whose parents both worked, or my maternal grandparents, and she’d pick me up there and we’d both go home. When we got home, the entire downstairs had been utterly transformed. Daddy had taken down and moved a fireplace — brick by brick — across the room, putting it where a set of windows used to be. The wall between the dining and living rooms had come down, there were now doors where another set of windows had been, a window where those doors had been, and the whole thing had been carpeted. He didn’t mess around. Remember, this was in the space of one day.

Another time, I was in college, and my mother and I had taken a summer vacation to go to Florida (I don’t remember why he didn’t go), and when we called Daddy one night, we found that there had been a bad storm and a huge oak tree had fallen down during the night and hit the house. By the time my mother and I got home a couple of days later, the roof had been repaired, the fallen tree removed, and there was literally no sign that anything untoward had happened other than the giant stump in the back yard where the tree had been, and some sawdust here and there outside.

Daddy pretended that he didn’t care much for animals. My mother and I had always had pets. My mother would hug a hippo if it were homeless, and she’d find a way to feed it and keep it warm in the winter. Even if it meant sleeping in the bed with her and Daddy. We had a parade of feral and half-feral cats and several dogs. One such dog was Troubles, a little half-Chihuahua mutt that ruled our house with an iron paw. Well, my mother, anyway. Daddy claimed to be basically put out by her. Until one day when my mother and I were about to come downstairs to head to work and school and we saw him talking to Troubles, who was limping. “Oh, what’s wrong with your ‘itta foot, girl?” he said, softly. He then bent down and took her injured paw in one hand and gently manipulated it. His cover was so blown. As far as I know, we never let him know we’d seen it. Why shatter the image?

When I was about sixteen or so, he came home from the golf course one day and told my mother about an old hound dog mother who had nine puppies, and she was living at the golf course, scrounging scraps from people. My mother got a bag of Puppy Chow, blended it up with some water, and drove out to the golf course, and made sure that old mother and those puppies had something to eat. She fed them for several days, and then one of the puppies was killed by someone in a golf cart. My mother made her intentions clear: she was going to go get the remaining eight, who were old enough to be weaned.

Daddy threatened to leave home if she did it. We all knew it was an empty threat. We had eight puppies for a while, until we were able to find homes for six of them (the males) and ended up keeping the two females.

When Daddy was diagnosed with lung cancer in 1986, we had a cat named Sinbad. He was kind of a cantankerous thing, but he loved my mother and didn’t have much to do with anyone else. By this time, I was living at the dorms at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. But after Daddy had to start staying home all the time because the radiation therapy made him weak, Sinbad took up with him and they became fast buddies. Daddy would sit on the couch, his breathing labored, and Sinbad would curl up in his lap and make Daddy pet him for hours on end. He pretended not to love that cat, but he did.

Sinbad loved Daddy, as well. When Daddy died in May of 1987, Sinbad mourned like the rest of us did, and he never did quite warm up to my mother or me again.

Daddy didn’t like to leave Eutaw. Home and family were, as I said earlier, very important. He’d no more leave Eutaw than he’d start missing it and want to go home. We did, nevertheless, leave Eutaw. Many times. We visited my mother’s extended family in Arkansas several times; Gulf Shores, Alabama every summer for some fun at the beach; Fort Walton Beach, Florida when I was a teenager (along with another family who had two kids still in elementary school); California (we drove there and back, stopping many times along the way); West Virginia (to visit my maternal grandparents); Columbus, Mississippi (to visit my maternal grandparents); all over Florida when I was four; Monroeville, Alabama (to visit my maternal grandparents) . . . but coming home was always the part he enjoyed most, I believe. Eutaw was where his roots were, and it’s where he felt most comfortable.

He had a weird superpower that I’ve only seen manifest in a couple of other people. No matter where we went, we would run into people that he knew. One memorable time, we had driven to West Virginia and were spending the day at Busch Gardens in Ohio, and we actually ran into someone not only from Eutaw, but with whom Daddy went to high school in the 50s. Bizarre.

Another anecdote I never experienced, but which I’ve heard told, is that when he was a boy, living at home with his family, they were all avid church-goers. The way I heard it phrased was, “Every time the doors opened, we had to be there.” It’s not that he didn’t believe the same things his family did, he just didn’t think going to church all those times a week and getting dolled up in go-to-meetin’ clothes were for him. And he didn’t want to subject me to that because it rankled him so much when it was him. So although we went almost every Sunday morning (but not on Sunday night or Wednesdays), after a certain age, I was not forced to do so. When it was clear that I was not interested in the least, I was allowed to quietly stop going.

He was a good cook, as well. His father — Paw-Paw — had a recipe that he probably inherited from his father, and so on. It was Brunswick stew. After Paw-Paw died in 1971, his children inherited the recipe, and each came up with his or her own version. Daddy’s was so good. He’d cook it all day in a huge pot on the stove, adding stuff, stirring, tasting it, adding more stuff, until it was just right. We’d eat on it for several days. He also made wonderful cornbread, steaks, and apple sauce. Those sound odd when put together like that, but those are what I remember him doing really well. I’m sure there were other things, but mostly my mother cooked unless it was the grill or the stew.

He taught me how to clean a fish, although I never had (or wanted) to actually do it. We went fishing a lot when I was little, although not so much as I got older (fishing is boring). It used to frustrate him to no end when I’d goof around, scaring away any fish brave enough to approach our boat, clearly not caring whether I caught anything, and fish would (literally, in one case) jump out of the water to try to catch my lure. My mother caught a nice eight-pound bass that he had mounted. It hung in a place of honor in the house until after his death.

When I was growing up, no one cursed around me. I’m not sure whose idea it was, but everyone pretty much kept their language clean around me. I was probably twelve before I heard anyone say anything worse than ‘damn.’ But I do clearly remember one night when I witnessed Daddy lose his temper big-time. Now, understand that Daddy was a gentle man with an even temper. He lost his temper a few times in my presence, and it was usually over something I did, and hindsight being 20/20, I deserved the anger. :) But this was something above and beyond that. I went to a private school, as I said earlier. Very small, about 150 kids from Kindergarten through twelfth grade. To keep financially solvent, the teachers weren’t paid all that well, and the school sponsored a lot of things like bake sales. One particular summer, they had a barbecue sale. But rather than offer BBQ pork butts for sale, the school chose instead to send out mail to all the parents that said, essentially, “We’re cooking two butts for you. You will pay us for them, and you will pick them up on July 4th.”

Daddy. Was. Pissed. And the more he thought about it, the worse he got. But my mother said, “David, just leave it.” And as far as she knew, he did.

Later that night, after they had gone to bed, I was in the living room watching TV when Daddy marched through the room in his underwear, thin-lipped. He went into his office and closed the door. This was probably 10:30 pm. Being a teenager, I eavesdropped outside the door to his office and heard him calling the parent who had organized the BBQ, and whose name was on the memo that went out.

I had never heard some of those words, before, and I was probably thirteen or fourteen. I certainly had never heard Daddy use them. Needless to say, Mr. Pork Butt knew that not everyone was just thrilled to death about being told we had to pay for something we didn’t order.

Daddy came out of his office (by this time I was back on the couch), marched back upstairs, and went to bed. We paid for the butts, and as far as I know, my mother never knew about that phone call until years later when I told her about it.

Sometimes, he saved her from herself, as well. Although my mother was employed in a different county by the public school system, I attended a private school with a high tuition. The idea was that I would get a better education. I don’t know if I did or not, but she certainly caught flack for the decision. Toward the end of my time in school, it just wore on her to have to pay the tuition each month. I remember her writing out the last check, and taking great glee in writing . . . let’s just say, “some unkind things” on the check. In the “For” field. In the “To” field. All over the face of the check. She put it in the envelope and sealed it.

What she didn’t know — again, until years later, when I told her — was that Daddy had seen her do it, and waited until she left, then calmly destroyed the check and wrote his own check for the full amount, minus the snarky commentary. Daddy did the finances, so she likely never noticed that the check didn’t cash.

All of my father’s surviving siblings (there are four) have told me that of all of them, he was the most gentle. Some of them are stern, boisterous, charming, outgoing, and maybe more than a little crazy (but absolutely in a good way). Daddy was even-tempered, quiet, respectful, probably a little introverted, and dependable. When Meme (his mother) had problems at her house, he’d fix them at no charge to her. When she needed, say, a new lawn mower because her old one was no longer fixable, he’d let the rest of the siblings know that it would cost whatever amount, and then he’d pay whatever wasn’t covered by their donations. (I’m not saying this to be a jerk; people have their own financial situations to deal with and he was well aware of that. He was also golf buddies with the guy who owned the store that sold the mowers and repaired them.)

When my mother or I wanted something, he’d move Heaven and Earth to get it, if it was possible.

I certainly didn’t want for anything growing up. Looking back on it, I was probably one of the luckiest kids in my class. I got tons of books, toys, a go-kart, my own TV at age six, comic books, a horse (briefly), etc. When I wanted a tree house, he didn’t build me a tree house, because the trees weren’t suitable (and it was dangerous). Instead, he put up four creosote poles in the back yard, built a very stable, sturdy platform up there (ten to twelve feet high), and constructed a small play house atop that platform. My friends and I called it The Pole House. The only reason it didn’t have running water and lights is that we weren’t zoned for it.

Both of my parents had new cars every few years, and once I started driving, I had my own car, too. Always my mother’s cast-off, but still, it was my own car. He paid for my gas and kept them maintained and in good working condition. Usually on Saturday mornings while I was sound asleep. He always rose at the crack of dawn. I always rose at the crack of noon.

Daddy taught me to drive one afternoon when I was 15. I didn’t even know what we were doing. He just said, “Let’s go for a drive,” and off we went. We drove a couple of miles over to a quiet street behind Meme’s house, where he parked the car, got out, and said, “Okay, your turn.” I don’t remember the process, but apparently, it took. :)

I broke my arm pretty much the first week of second grade. It may even have been the first day. I fell off the monkey bars and landed on my left wrist. I felt the radius snap. I started screaming, and the principal called my parents. Since my mother was in another county and couldn’t get there in time to do any good, he located my father (I probably told him whose house he was working on that day). Meanwhile, he asked me which doctor I went to (there were only two in Eutaw). I picked the doctor who wasn’t my actual doctor, because I didn’t much like Dr. Bethany at the time. So I said, “Dr. Staggers!” By the time Dr. Staggers saw me, Daddy had arrived, and for some reason I still don’t quite understand, instead of taking me to the hospital literally a hundred yards from Dr. Staggers’ office, we were sent to the emergency room in Tuscaloosa, 35 miles away. Daddy drove me. I was in the back seat, lying with my arm on a pillow, sobbing in pain. “Go faster!” I’d shout. But when he did, the car would hit those rhythmic bumps and each bump hurt, so I’d shout “Slow down!”

That I wasn’t turned out on the side of Highway 11 between Eutaw and Tuscaloosa is evidence for how patient he was.

Speaking of patience . . . you know how they say patience is a virtue? I’m thinking that with Daddy, it was almost an art form. He broke his toe when I was very little. Like four. I believe it broke when someone drove a pickup truck over his foot, but I could be misremembering that. Anyway, there’s not a lot you can do for a broken toe other than just keep off it and keep it elevated. So he would sit on the couch with his foot propped up on the coffee table, and I, being me, would grab his big toe in one hand and the neighboring toe in the other . . . and spread them apart.

That I wasn’t driven out into the country and left standing on the side of a dark, country road is more evidence for how patient he was.

When I was a little older, he and I spent a lot of time together because my mother was attending school at night to earn her second Master’s degree. Daddy drove us up, dropped her off, and then he and I found things to do in Tuscaloosa while she was in class, then picked her up afterwards and went home. I probably slept on the way home. We ate at various places (including at least one place I’m fairly sure was a dive bar, but they had TV and served me Shirley Temples while he had a beer) and went, eventually, to every store in the entire city. At which I, more often than not, I’m sure, wheedled him into buying me a toy.

Growing up, my father was fairly athletic. He played high school sports and all that kind of thing. Yet I never felt pressured even a little into any of that. I had no interest in sports — still don’t, for that matter — and would rather watch TV or read than do all that stuff. I know some of the other parents said snide things, because I overheard them once. But if it bothered him, he never let on. I know it’s a big deal with a lot of fathers that their sons follow in their footsteps, and play sports and learn from them how to throw a football or hit a curve ball or hit the perfect drive . . . But as I said elsewhere, he let me be me and pursue my own interests and never pushed me to get interested in the things he was. I never expressed how grateful I was for that, because it never occurred to me until just now.

Literally the only time I ever cut class in my (pre-college) life was at the very end of sixth grade. I forget what the occasion was, but there was a big gathering of my classmates for some event, and I either hadn’t been invited or didn’t want to go, so . . . I took the day off and spent it with Daddy at his office. He was working a block or so away on some building in downtown Eutaw. I had opened the office door for some reason — probably to get some fresh air; everyone smoked back then, inside, and the building smelled perpetually of stale smoke — and dropped some fragile toy in the open doorway. The door was on a spring, and as it started to swing shut, without thinking, I put out my right hand to stop the door from closing.

I hit one of the window panes squarely with my open right palm. And the door continued to close. The glass shattered and gouged out a shallow cut very close to the vein in my wrist. I saw the blood well up and clamped my left hand over the wound and high-tailed it out of the office over to Daddy’s work site. As soon as I saw him, I started crying. He looked down and saw blood out from between my fingers. He probably thought I’d cut my arm half off from the theatrics. Again, he had to rush me to a doctor and leave his crew alone. (I think I got a couple of stitches. It looked worse than it was.)

Our little dog Troubles, whom I mentioned above, was horribly spoiled. And not entirely right in the head. She would get out of our house and go on an adventure, looking for Daddy. Many times, Daddy would get a call from random people around town who knew us and knew Troubles. “David, your little black and white dog is running right up the middle of Highway 11, nose to the yellow line. She was at so-and-so’s house headed toward town a few minutes ago.” Again, he would have to leave his crew and go find Troubles. Troubles wanted nothing in life so much as a ride in The Car. The Car was her favorite thing. So when Daddy would pull up, she would readily leap in, and he’d take her home.

One day, he told me, he just got a feeling that he should go home for lunch instead of eating with his crew. When he drove up at our house, this is what he saw: Troubles, standing in a pool of blood, leaned up against the carport door, barely alive. She had gotten out of the house and apparently picked a fight with the wrong dog. The much larger dog had picked her up in its jaws and shaken her. She managed to crawl home, and was propped up against the door with both lungs punctured.

Daddy wrapped her in Saran wrap both to bandage the wounds and to keep the air from escaping from her lungs through her wounds. He drove her to the vet and left her there.

A few days later, the vet called us and said, “Come get your dog. You can watch her die at home as well as I can here. There’s nothing I can do for her.”

We brought her home and put her on the couch, wrapped in bandages. There she lay for several weeks, looking pitiful as only a wounded dog can. We had to feed her by hand, and she got hot fried chicken breast from a local place. We fed her milk and water from a spoon. We would pick her up gingerly and take her outside so she could go to the bathroom. She got to sleep in the bed between my parents. When my mother was at work and I was at school, Daddy had to leave whatever site he was working and come home to do all this at least once or twice every day. And at night, she’d get between him and my mother with her feet against his back, and just shoooooooooove as hard as she could.

She got better. And was spoiled rotten from that day forth. How many men would have just written her off as a lost cause and let her die? Not Daddy. Even though it inconvenienced him for weeks. He knew my mother and I would be devastated, so he did it without complaint. (Or maybe there was complaint, but not that my mother has ever told me.)

Another time, there was a dog who chased our cat Sinbad up a tree. Sinbad could easily have gone up ten or twelve feet and gotten away, but . . . Sinbad wasn’t the brightest cat. He went all the way up the pine tree. Fifty or sixty feet up the pine tree. A very tall, very straight, very thin pine tree. And hugged the trunk.

My mother was distraught. “David, you have got to get him out of the tree!” He answered, “Dammit, Carlene, if he wants down, he’ll come down.”

He was up there for at least a couple of days, yowling piteously. But no way was Daddy going up that tree for a damned cat. He put his foot down.

And then a friend called and told us that there was a bad storm on the way. My mother begged Daddy once more to just get the cat out of the tree before the storm came. After what I’m sure weren’t just a few expletives, he called Asplundh and got them to come out and lift him up to the top of that pine tree using their cherry picker. The idea was that the cat would know him, whereas if a stranger came up, he might panic and hurt himself or something.

Daddy grabbed the cat and brought him back down. And from that day forward, Sinbad and Daddy were best friends. Sinbad followed him around wherever he went, demanding to be petted.

In August, 1986, he went to the doctor complaining of pains in his chest, teeth, and neck, and they discovered he had an inoperable tumor in his lung that was quite large, and pressing on his nerves, causing pain in different places. He had radiation therapy, and it seemed to work for a while, but then the tumor came back with a vengeance. I was to graduate from the University of Alabama in May of the next year. I distinctly remember studying for exams while staying with him in his hospital room. He intended to attend my graduation, but . . . it just wasn’t possible. He was too weak. A family friend helped me get ready and my uncle Jesse came with me to the ceremony, and filmed me marching across the stage, grabbing my college diploma, and walking off the stage. I have no memories at all of the entire ordeal. The stress was just too high.

We went back to the hospital room and hooked the camera up to the TV in the room and made sure he saw it. It was very important to him, so it was important to us. I wouldn’t even have gone to graduation had it been up to me.

Five days after my graduation, on May 21, 1987, he died quietly in his sleep, drugged on morphine because of the pain. The last thing he said to me, personally, before they administered the drugs was, “I want you to know that I’m proud of you, and that I love you.” He then told all of us, “See you later.”

I’m very sorry I never got to know Daddy man to man. I had just turned 22 when he died, and was certainly not an “adult” or anything that could be called “a man.” Not that I still consider myself either of those things, but at age 50, it seems kind of weird to insist I’m not.

If he were still here, he would be 78 years old. Probably retired (although not retired from golf), but I wouldn’t count on that being complete. He’d still be supervising. It was in his blood. My house would be in perfect repair, because he would see to it.

He would have a large garden, and it would be full of every vegetable able to grow in Eutaw. I’m certain my parents would still be living in the house he built in 1969. They’d probably travel some. To visit me in Atlanta, certainly, but to enjoy their retirement, as well. My mother’s brother is in Arizona; his brother Jesse James is in Texas. A sister is in Tennessee. Another in the Birmingham area.

One of Daddy’s dreams was to play golf at some of the courses where they did those tournaments he loved so much to watch. I have a feeling that coming to visit me in Georgia would be at least in small part an excuse to drag his clubs out to the links and get in 18 holes. Probably with someone he went to high school with in the 50s. :)

But I’m 100% sure that he would still be in Eutaw. I don’t think he would ever willingly leave it for any length of time.

He’s buried there.

  1. You may notice that I, a 50-year-old man, refer to my father as “Daddy.” Not only is this Very Southern™, it’s because of what I say above: I never really knew him as a grown son knows his father. He never morphed from “Daddy” to “Dad.” (Of course, my mother never morphed from “Mama” to “Mom,” either, so it’s entirely possible I would still call him Daddy, and that’s OK, too.)
  2. Went by “Jimmy” or “JJ” back then. Didn’t know his legal name was Jesse James until he was quite a bit older than you’d imagine.
  3. He was a carpenter.
  4. Highway 11, also known as “Boligee Street.” We lived on the downhill side of a hill on a curve, so people came flying over that hill and curve going far faster than the posted speed limit.
  5. It’s also under one of the walls of the first grade classroom where I eventually attended school (Warrior Academy), because he built it. :)
  6. Come to think of it, I’m not 100% sure where the carpentry skills came from. He had uncles who did carpentry, and Paw-Paw had a lot of carpentry equipment in his workshop. It’s probably something he learned growing up, surrounded by it on all sides. There was probably no formal “apprenticeship,” but I could be wrong.
  7. Where my mother and her extended family are from.
  8. Crossett, Arkansas. You have to understand that a town of 5,000 people in 1960 was more than twice the size of Eutaw. Crossett is now about 10,000 people.
  9. My mother would fill your head with many tales of how horrible a baby I was, and how it ended their plans of ever, ever making that particular mistake again. But don’t listen to her. I was perfect then and am perfect now. ;)
  10. Why in the hell do I remember this? It was a series of problems where you had to take fractions and come up with an equivalent fraction for which the sum of the numerator and the denominator was a specific number. Example: Find a fraction n/d equivalent to 11/24ths where n + d = 4095. (1287/2808) There were dozens of these. Most of the class solved it by just repeatedly adding the fractions together until they found the correct answer (without Excel!), but Daddy showed me a shortcut.
  11. By the same token, whatever writing, English, or story-telling skills came from her.
  12. When my extended family get together, spontaneous bell-choirs occasionally break out. No, I’m not kidding. They can sing Christmas carols in four-part harmony with a few minutes of preparation. It’s both awesome and kind of weird at the same time. :)
  13. A slightly more accurate term for this would probably be “pestering him while he tried to work.”
  14. Troubles was, without the slightest doubt, the most well-named pet I have ever had. Keep reading.
  15. About 35 miles northeast of Eutaw on I-59N.
  16. Southern Baptist. The Eutaw Baptist Church, to be specific.
  17. I promise that at some point, I will post the recipe for this.
  18. I strongly suspect it was my mother’s idea, but . . . it may also have had a lot to do with the way children tend to repeat everything they hear, and saying certain words around certain people in my family (Meme, Paw-Paw) would not have gone over well.
  19. People were also not allowed to speak to me in baby talk. I know this was my mother’s doing, and I’m grateful for her for that to this day.
  20. For the day. You’d laugh uproariously at how cheap it would sound now.
  21. This is fact. He stated it to me once it was built. He even checked about the zoning thing. I should also note that the shed is still in use. The local vet received it as a donation from my mother to get it out of the yard, and to our knowledge, it is still there. Daddy built to last.
  22. Get this: it was a 7-11. Not joking. Best chicken — save one place (The Cotton Patch) — that I have ever eaten.
  23. And my maternal grandparents, Nanny and Granddaddy, also fed her chicken and milk a time or two a day. Did I mention Troubles was aptly named and very spoiled? Because she was.

Lately, I’ve been participating in a weekly write-in. A group of us get together one night per week and sit together writing away for 30-minute sprints. After each sprint (we typically do two or three), we talk about how many words we wrote (or edited) and potentially what we are working on. No reading, no critiquing. Just writers writing, but together, for encouragement and solidarity. And maybe a little idea-generation.

I’ve been working on a short story (probably a novelette) set in the world of my Urban Fantasy series, which I call The MCU Case Files. I’m trying to get a handle on some of my characters, and one way of doing that is to write about them as the main character of a shorter work. They may or may not ever see the light of day, but the exercise is valid for my purposes.

For the last couple or three meetings, one of the other writers has been working on plotting his next novel. To do this, he is using a hand-drawn grid on paper, and we asked him to explain what it is and how it works.

Turns out, it’s a version of what JK Rowling used to plot her Harry Potter books. Basically a spreadsheet. Intrigued, I decided to look it up. Nothing else has seemed to work for me, so it couldn’t hurt to try one more thing, could it?

Order of the Phoenix plot spreadsheet page

Order of the Phoenix plot spreadsheet page. Click to embiggen.

I’m not plotting just the one book, of course. I’m plotting three at once, and keeping myself open to ideas for books four (already have the situation, just no plot) through six, as well. For hints I could drop in early. Not bad for a story that started as a first-sentence-writing exercise, huh? Over the last few months, I’ve identified the six or seven major plot points that will arc through the books.

Over the past few days I’ve played with my own version of this. I’m not doing it by hand, though. How gauche. :) I’m using Excel, because I have access to it at work and access to Excel 365 for free through the Microsoft website, so why not? I’ve completely thrown out the entire plot of the second book and substituted one that makes more actual sense, that ties in neatly with the plots of books one and three. And refined two of the other subplots, and added one new one.

I’ll save that thrown-out plot, though, for book five. Or maybe six. Depending. Now that I’m working through the plotlines, I’ve changed the rules of magic a little to accommodate some stuff, I’ve moved some things from book three into books one and two, and just generally been happily manipulating text in a spreadsheet. It even looks vaguely like work if you happen to walk past my cube. (As does this, since I’m writing it in raw HTML.) :)

I hope this is the right tool for me. I’ve been foundering on trying to keep all this in one coherent place for a while. Pull one string, and the rest tangle like iPod earbud cords in your backpack.


Silence, Be Broken!

So . . . it’s been a while. :) Unintentionally, mind you.

Last November, I was doing what I called NaNotWriMo, meaning that I ignored NaNoWriMo for the first time since 2008, and instead, I decluttered my office. I made it a lot better. It’s still not perfect, but it is orders of magnitude better than it was.

And then toward the end of November some stuff happened. Real-life stuff. Stuff I won’t go into. But it was enough that I didn’t want to blog or write or do much of anything else creative. So I left the office declutterization unfinished, abandoned all my writing projects, and every time I thought I had something to say, here, I’d talk myself out of it with a very old argument. “Dude, this is a writing blog. You should write about, you know . . . writing. And since you aren’t doing that, what’s the point?”

And that is how we end up at May 7th with the first post since November 18th.

But enough about that. I have ranting to get to!

What I was wondering is: am I the only one who, while reading, lets a name that appears to have several, conflicting, legitimate pronunciations throw me out of the story?

I can’t help it. Every time I see the name, I find myself pausing and thinking “Is it Lord High Emperor of Space and Time Potayto Salaad, Potahto Salaad, or Pah-tah-toe Salaad? And is it Salahd, Sah-lah-ahd, or Sah-lah-ahd?”

Yes, this kind of thing really does bother me, and it is literally every time I run across the name while reading. It slows me down and throws me out of the book. If it’s a name like Mary or Frank or Kira or even Binbiniqegabinik, there are very limited ways it could be pronounced. And in the case of that last one, it was made clear in the book what the proper pronunciation is, if I recall correctly.

A friend posted a question on Facebook, asking if she should use ‘Kira,’ ‘Brianna,’ or ‘Brienne’ as a character name. I voted firmly for Kira, because for me, those other two would cause me to read at half speed unless a pronunciation guide were given. Is the ‘i’ in ‘Brianna’ long or short? Is the first ‘a’ like the one in ‘bat’ or the one in ‘father’? We won’t even go into ‘Brienne’ and all the different ways I could find to pronounce it. I would probably have to just mentally call ‘Brienne’ something like ‘Bree’ or reading a sentence would go like this:

Brienne [Bree-en? Bree-en? Bry-en? Bry-en? Is the final ‘e’ pronounced? Gaaah!] and Gemina [Is the ‘g’ hard or soft? Is it ‘{G|J}em-i-na’, or ‘{G|J}e-mee-na’? Gaaah!] leapt into the saddle of Brienne’s [Bree-en’s? Bree-en‘s?] steed Fnaben [Dammit.] . . .

I’m guilty of it, myself, of course. On Second Life, I’m known by the name Sathor Chatnoir. Although ‘Chatnoir’ is fairly simple if you know French pronounciation, apparently ‘Sathor’ gives people fits. To me, it’s obviously Say-thor (where ‘Thor’ is pronounced like the Norse god), but when I heard people pronouncing it (we sometimes abandon typing and actually talk), people were saying it to rhyme with Dan Rather’s last name, or pronouncing the ‘Sa’ as “sah” instead of “say.” I was totally flabberghasted because to me, it’s so obvious. :)

And yeah, I know that it doesn’t matter how a name is pronounced unless there’s some poetry involved (A Elbereth Gilthoniel / silivren penna míriel . . .). I guess all I’m saying is that I like to know. Maybe it has something to do with being raised fairly early in my reading-for-pleasure life on books like The Lord of the Rings where there is an actual pronunciation guide right there in the book to tell you that the “C” in “Celeborn” is hard, or that the second syllable of “Lothlorien” is stressed.

Anyway, it’s probably just me, and this is just a rant, but at least it’s off my chest, now, and I can get back to plotting my novels and novellas. :)

You may notice over on the right of this page three circular graphs showing progress. Those are novels I’m working on co-plotting. They are the first three novels of my MCU Case Files series, and there are a lot of interwoven plots that need to all resolve by the end of Book 3, so that’s mostly what I’m working on. The current figures are only guesses, but I had to point out the cool graphs because cool.


NaNotWriMo 2014, Day 18: Organized Chaos

?Chaos in the world brings uneasiness, b by katerha, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  katerha 

A little past the halfway point of the month, I’m pleased with my progress. An embarrassing amount of stuff has been removed from the room. Some of it books that went into another room. Some of it trash that is still being dealt with. A lot of it needs shredding. And I do mean a lot; there’s no way I could do it with my small shredder at home, so I’m taking it with me to work in small batches and dropping it into the shredder bins at work.

What remains in the room has been put into strategically placed themed piles.

For instance, the computers, the printer, all the cables, keyboards, mice, and other assorted computer-related equipment are all in one corner. The read books are all stacked together. All the souvenirs from cons are together. The bags are all together. The notebooks are all together. The desk toys are all in the same box.

And the Pisa-esque, somewhere-between-two-and-three-foot tower of past critiques perches precariously at the precipice of the portal.

Mocking me.

Perusing that will be the most time-consuming part, considering some of it is a novella I wrote, had critiqued, and then promptly lost off my hard drives. But once I transcribe whatever commentary I choose to keep from critiquers long past, the gods of recycling will receive them as my tribute.

I still gotta find places for all this stuff, mind you. But the paper is a huge part of it. And I’m making major inroads on it.

There are also an awful lot (most of a seven-foot shelf) of computer books that are now obsolete. Those probably need to either go away entirely or be donated or rehomed to someone who will use them. Anyone want a Visual Basic 5 book? SQL 6.5?

It’s actually getting harder and harder to FIND things to disposition because at this point “disposition” means “find a permanent storage solution,” and I’m not quite to that point, yet.

As for the other goal . . .

It’s getting there, I think. Every time I run across a scribbled note for the novel (series), I transcribe it in one place and toss the original. I have quite a file of ideas I forgot, a good number of which are really great ideas that I’m going to work in as I write my outline and refine it.

I know the endings of all three books. And the beginnings of two of them. I know a good deal of what’s going on in the world of my story, and realized that I’ve been ignoring a whole category of conflict that, in retrospect, I’ve been just stupid to ignore. I know the motivations of two of my bad guys.

Now I just need to come up with some more case characters and secondary characters to play in my world. The Magical Crimes Unit is a new division, after all, and has to share space with the other FBI agents, some of whom aren’t as friendly as others.

Internal strife. Why didn’t I think of that earlier?

And lastly, I’ve cut severely back on my YouTube viewing. I don’t think I’ve watched a single video in about a week. I’ve read, I’ve listened to podcasts, and I’ve wasted time on the Internet in other ways, but I’m definitely scaling back on YouTube.

Onward and upward!


NaNotWriMo 2014, Day 7: Treasure!

Last night, I was up fairly late catching up on a podcast and some YouTube channels. When I went up for bed, I kept my self-promise to disposition at least one thing in the office. Since I wasn’t leaving again until the morning, I decided to shuffle some things around that I knew would either be staying in the room or staying in the room until later. Call it “consolidation” of similar items.

I moved all of my old computers into one corner. With the old printer and the old speakers, and stacked old keyboards and mice nearby. Shuffled a bunch of boxes of photos to one place. Stacked back editions of magazines together. Stacked books I’ve read together.


Then I came to this box that I knew hadn’t been opened in quite a while, if ever. I think it has been in the room since I moved in, and has had stuff stacked on it since.

Upon opening it, I immediately recognized every item inside. Stuff I haven’t seen since probably 1999 when I moved to Georgia from Alabama.

Without even having to go through each of them laboriously, I knew I had found:

  • A spiral-bound notebook from 1983 containing a travelogue I wrote while on a trip to England and France (graduation gift from my parents). Pictures from that trip. Souvenirs from that trip.
  • A spiral-bound notebook I used to carry around in high school (ca. 1980-1983) and in which I hand-wrote stories in pencil. It has several in there that I had thought long lost. For the good of humanity, they shall remain so. I was amazingly, overwhelmingly, stupendously fond of utilizing really overly dramatic and annoyingly overabundant abverbs and adjectives back then.
  • A spiral-bound notebook containing story notes from a novel I have had in my head since I was about eleven years old, and which eventually became my (unfinished) NaNoWriMo novel for 2008, The Third Prophecy.

    As an aside, judging from the writing, I probably should have been writing the story as a screenplay. I did things very cinematically, starting the story with a wide, exterior establishing shot, then zooming in to a medium distance, and finally into a close-up of the character starting his action. That it took me five pages to get there is a testament to how far I’ve come since then.

  • World maps I drew of my sci-fi/fantasy world(s) from the larger universe surrounding The Third Prophecy. The alphabet I came up with for the language spoken by one of the races on one of those worlds. Notes I wrote for the sounds of that language and several more. A few rudimentary words in said languages. The numbering system used by the race that speaks one of those languages. (Have I mentioned I was a huge Tolkien fan?) Pseudocode for a computer program to create random words for said language. (Somewhere there exists a program I wrote that, given any number, generates the words to say it in this language. Have I mentioned I’m a huge geek?)

But the pièce de résistance was another spiral-bound notebook in which I had done my “first sentence” exercise from 1995 until I got my first Franklin Planner. Archived in this notebook are probably hundreds of first lines of stories that were never intended to be written. Just looking through them reminded me how creative it felt to do that.

But if I start that again, where to put it? My planner? Evernote? Dropbox? Google Docs? Scrivener? Somewhere else? Heh! The same notebook, nearly ten years later?

Anyway, I look forward to going through these old treasures and finding a proper place to put them. Perhaps the recycle bin is best for some of it.


NaNotWriMo 2014, Day 4

NaNotWriMo seems a lot easier on the brainpan to try to decipher than my earlier choices for what to call this month.

I’ve kept up with my plan. Every time I go upstairs in my house (where the master suite, including my office, is located), I disposition at least one thing in my office. It has even resulted in me bringing things in from outside the room, but it’s because the things I’m bringing in are part of a set of things that need to be in that room (e.g., writing books). It’s all about the ensemble, see.

Anyway, I can now actually see the top of my desk. As it turns out, there is one under there! And it’s brown! And covered with glass! Hmm. Very dirty glass. I’ll clean it later. It’ll probably get worse again before it gets better (flat surface = a place to put things that are being ‘dispositioned’).

And as far as the other thing goes — the outline — I’ve been making copious notes (in longhand; there’s just something more . . . real, I guess? . . . about making notes by hand instead of typing them). Defining world events and potential conflicts, characters and their flaws, looking for conflicts between and among them. On the way to work this morning, a gaping hole in my world design opened up and let me peer into its abyss. So I have to come up with something to plug that.

Or, alternatively, find a way to fold it into my world in a way that complements what I already have.

But at least that’s progress. I’d rather see those holes now than when my alpha readers get hold of the book and say, “Dude, really? I could drive the Death Star through this hole.”

The vast majority of clutter that’s in my office, by the way, is — get this — old critiques! It’s where I’ve handed out 1500-word segments of my stories to my Tuesday night group (The Forum Writers Group, a.k.a. The Fountain Pen 2.0) and have received back written comments. There are stacks of these going back . . . longer than I’m willing to admit, really.

Although one bonus of that is that I now have the complete text of a novella I somehow managed to completely lose from all my electronic storage. As much as I would very much like to use this as an excuse in support of paper-hoarding, I know that it’s a bad thing.


The recycle people are not going to know what’s going on at my house for the next three weeks.

I’ve also started looking at comfortable chairs for the room. Ideally, I’d like a nice, leather chair-and-a-half with a small end table and lamp so I can sit in there and read. There’s plenty of room if I get rid of the old computers (plural) and rearrange the room slightly.

But I won’t be getting any of that until the room is done. And rearranged.

And repainted?

Whoa, Nellie! Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. :) The current light sage color that was perfect in 2001 is too pastel for me, now. I think I’d like a dark mocha. Make it more of a man-cave. With, like, six windows. :-/

What goes with dark, hunter green carpet? (Not my choice; the people who sold the house left me dark, hunter green carpet in that one room.)


Et Tu, Crustulum?



A few days ago, I went to a Chinese buffet near my office for lunch. It’s not what I’d call great, but it is fairly good and filling. They have good peanut butter chicken, hot and sour soup, broccoli chicken, garlic and zhà cài (榨菜) green beans, chicken on a stick, and mashed potatoes.

Hey, don’t judge me. Good mashed potatoes are a thing of beauty and one should not look a gift potato in the eyes.

OK, that really took an odd turn.

. . . Where was I?

Oh, right. After I was done, the server brought a fortune cookie. I opened it and got what you see to the right.

Seems like even the cookie is judging me. :)


PeNoNotWriMo 2014

Since I decided not to write (or edit, as one friend suggested) a novel for NaNoWriMo, I’m trying to figure out what to call November. PeNoNotWriMo sprang easily to mind (Personal Novel NOT Writing Month).

But given my “goal” (for lack of a better word) of making my home office a place where sane people (such as myself) want to be, I might call it “MaMyOffLiMo,” or Make My Office Livable Month. :)

It’s a working title. I’m sure I’ll come up with something far better the instant I press “publish.” :)

Anyhoo . . . one way I’m going about this is that every time I have to go upstairs for whatever reason — laundry, bathroom, book, brushing my teeth, etc. — I go into my office and disposition one or more items of clutter. Disposition means that if I lay my hands on it, I have to decide — then and there — what to do with it: keep it, store it, toss it, donate it. “Keep” means it stays in that room. “Store” means it either goes into storage in that room or another room. “Toss” means it goes either in the trash or in the recycle bin. “Donate” means that I’ll either donate it to Good Will (or someone like that) or find a friend who might want it. Hey, Geoff or Phil, need any airplane propellers? (It’s an extremely inside joke.)

Hint: It’s mostly going to be ‘toss it.’ Probably about 80% of it.

So far, I’ve moved two stacks of read books out of my office and into the “library,” which is one of my guest rooms. Which currently has a whole separate issue with clutter which I can address at another time. One of which is insufficient shelf space for the books I have.

There are old computers (plural) in my office that were last useful when Windows 95 was new. I have floppy disks. Actual floppy (5.25″) disks. I have manuals for electronics I last used when I lived in another state (15 years ago).

It’s time. Oh, yes, it is very much time.

I sincerely doubt I will be posting pictures, because the clutter is pretty horrible and I’m embarrassed by it. But one way or the other, I’ll post a picture at the end of November. There. I’ve said it in public. And now it’s a commitment.

I might have some sub-goals once I’m able to picture the room as it will be instead of as it is.


NaNoWriMo 2014?

NaNoWriMo 2014 Participant

NaNoWriMo 2014 Participant

I haven’t talked about NaNoWriMo at all, this year. Each year, since 2008, I’ve participated religiously, writing anywhere from 50,000 to 122,000 words in the space of thirty days.

But this year . . . I don’t know. I’ve already proven to myself six times over that I can do exactly that — write a bunch of words in one month. And that’s great. It is. It means that when I put my mind to it and have a road map to follow, I can produce like crazy. But more importantly, here is what I’ve shown myself.

  • During NaNoWriMo, I write a lot of words, and sometimes I like those words, but — well, take last year, for example. I wrote > 50,000 words during November, sure. But they were throw-away words. All of them. I’ve since re-structured the entire world of that novel and invalidated every single syllable I wrote last year. All the main characters are now different. The “plot” (such as it was) is different. The world is different.
  • Even while writing last year, my heart wasn’t in it. I wrote maybe two chapters worth of actual novel . . . and the other 48,000 words were about the murder victims and the murderer as children, and what led to the crimes. I abandoned my characters shortly after their introduction because, frankly, the story wasn’t at all exciting to me. It bored me so much, I couldn’t even interest myself. (Hence the restructure of the world I mentioned earlier.)
  • I have written almost nothing since last November. And in 2013, I wrote almost nothing after NaNoWriMo 2012. Aside from some flash pieces in January and February — for the Codex Weekend Warrior, another timed writing event — I have worked on some stories I already had in the works and half-heartedly pushed a pencil across paper a few times, making notes about my novel series, trying to excitify it to at least regain my own interest.
  • I’m afraid that what I’ve managed to do is train myself that only November is for writing (with a tiny bit in January and February), but I don’t have to do it any other time. At Viable Paradise in 2012, we were cautioned about that. To avoid tying writing to other habits. One instructor quit smoking and found that he could not write anymore because he had mentally tied writing with the ritual of smoking. Give up one, the other goes, too. He had to start smoking again in order to get back to writing. November, I’m afraid, has become that, for me.

I haven’t even tried to come up with an idea for something to write. People keep asking me, “Hey, what are you working on for NaNoWriMo, this year?” and I’ve been vague and noncommittal about it. I’ve had several glimmers that forced themselves on me while I was driving or in the shower or just dropping off to sleep, but those are the desperation ideas that mean my brain is humoring me by coming up with ideas at times when I can’t do much about them.

And as much as I’d like to blame how busy I am at work — and I am very busy — I can’t. I’ve made time in the past for NaNoWriMo, even if it meant getting up at 5:00 AM or taking long lunches to write. Even if it meant taking time at Thanksgiving away from my family to write. Even if it meant missing things because I knew that if I didn’t, I wouldn’t make my word-count for the day.

But only during November. Come December 1, I go back to my normal habits.

So, the conclusion I’ve come to is that as much fun as I have had in the past doing NaNoWriMo, and as much as I’d love to have that enthusiasm right now, I just don’t. And therefore will be sitting out this year.

I’m hoping that I’ll motivate myself to at least use the month to come up with something of an outline that will help me regain my enthusiasm for this project. I want to love it, again. I want to look forward to writing it.

Also, I don’t really have a comfortable writing space. Work is out, my living room is hard because there’s usually other distractions. My home office is a place that no sane person would want to spend any time in. (Which, by the way, still leaves me out. I’m pretty sure I’m still sane. Probably.) Perhaps I’ll use November to rectify that and turn my home office into a writing retreat. (Anybody got a flame thrower and an industrial grade paper shredder they’d let me borrow?)

You have no idea how much it actually pains me to sit this year out, but I think it’s the right decision. I stopped going to two of my critique groups because I just haven’t written anything, and the constant reminder of that whilst reading other people’s work was, frankly, depressing. I purposefully didn’t go to any conventions or writing seminars or anything of that sort this year, because if I’m not writing, then there’s no need to pretend otherwise. Why spend money needlessly?

It was an attempt to light a fire under my butt to get me writing. Instead, all it did was de-habituate writing even further.

So that banner up there is a lie. It says “NaNoWriMo 2014 Participant.” But I’m not a participant. I’m a spectator, this year.

Good luck, everyone, on your NaNoWriMo endeavors. I hope you all fly past the goal and keep going into the future.

To reiterate, my “goals” (such as they are) for NaNoWriMo are:

  • do some sort of outline for at least the first novel, if not the first few in the series
  • turn my office into a place where a sane person (such as myself) would actually want to spend time, and make it conducive to writing.

The Shambling Guide to New York CityThe Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I think this is probably the best thing I’ve read from Mur Lafferty, and I’m a fan of her work, anyway. Who knew that a book about a book editor putting together a travel guide for New York City could be interesting?

Well, I mean . . . it’s a travel guide for, you know, monsters. Except they don’t like that term. It’s kind of insulting. They prefer ‘coterie.’ And they are anything from dragons to fae to vampires to demons, and everything in between.

Where do dragons sleep when they visit New York City? Where should zombies eat? And what about visiting incubi and succubi? All these are answered in the book.

But, of course, the book wasn’t just ‘Zoë sits at her desk compiling a book about New York City,’ because that actually would be pretty boring. She works with a couple of vampires, an incubus, a succubus, a death goddess, a water sprite, three zombies, a dragon, and a construct (think Frankenstein’s monster). And there are no sexual harassment laws or health insurance. Still, it’s a good enough job.

But then there’s a zombie uprising because someone is poisoning their food supply, and the Public Works Department (the coterie police force) are suddenly having to battle all kinds of problems. Something big is about to go down in New York City. And to top it off, it looks like someone (other than / in addition to several of her coworkers) is out to get Zoë.

Being a book editor is dangerous business when you’re food to a good number of your coworkers.

Highly recommended. As much as I hate to use this phrase, “It’s a fast-paced tour-de-force that will have you on the edge of your seat.” :)

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