On Patterns

Sometimes, we’re not able to see the patterns right in front of our faces, because we’re too close to them. One has to back up to see that there is, in fact, a pattern.

Lately, I’ve been trying to type up what amounts to a synopsis of my novel. It’s not written completely, yet, but . . . it’s for Reasons. That will become clear in the fullness of time. I was specifically trying to come up with what themes are included in my novel. I’m terrible at themes. A theme has to beat me about the head and shoulders with a dead fish before I notice it.

While I was working on that, I noticed something, and started looking at my other writing.

I have a distinct pattern. And it’s pervasive.

I shall give you a couple of examples.

A few years ago, I signed up for an eight-week writing . . . “course,” I guess? Kinda? . . . by local(-to-Atlanta) author David Fullmer. It was eight consecutive Wednesdays or whatever, and consisted of him giving us lectures, answering questions, and assigning homework, and us reading the homework aloud the next meeting. The first week, our assignment was to write a setting. To pick an interior or exterior scene and describe it so that others could see it. No dialogue. If characters are present, they’re ‘furniture.’

This is what I wrote.

I woke flat on my back and opened my eyes to complete blackness. Panicked, I struggled to sit up. Strange noises came at me from all sides, and I realized quickly that they were echoes of my own movements. I made a conscious effort to sit still and breathe normally. I listened, trying to gauge the size of the room. In the distance to my right I could hear the slow, steady drip of water into water. Plink! Plink! Plink! Plink!

“Hello?” I called, and it was redoubled and sent back at me in shards by walls an unknown distance away. I shivered in the still, icy air as the echoes faded away slowly. I was sitting on hard stone so cold it seemed to leech the warmth from my body. I felt around me with my hands, following the coutours of the rock as best I could, its surface rough and clammy against my skin.

Not my best effort by any measure, but it shows the pattern: David asked for me to make readers see the scene, and the only thing I wanted to write after that was a setting in complete, total darkness where seeing is impossible.

Another example. I have a time-travel novel that is currently trunked, waiting for me to come up with a better ending. The entire thing came from my saying, “Why is it in time travel novels that it always hinges on some cataclysmic event? Why can’t the event be something ordinary, but could only be done by a certain person?” (It is still trunked because I didn’t handle that premise as well as I wanted to.)

The very first self-contained short story I wrote was from the POV of a woman who was on the losing side in a battle against her second personality. Another was about an old woman who hires a vampire to cure her dying son. Another was the typical rookie-writer ‘Adam and Eve’ story where they were AI programs created sort of by accident on a limited budget by harried programmers. In my dragon and princess story, the dragon is the hero, not the knights. In my novel series, I wanted an Urban Fantasy specifically unlike most of the others that are popular: male cast, third-person POV, characters inside the establishment/law, magic is ‘out,’ no sexy vampires or werewolves, nothing sparkles, etc. Another story evolved from me saying, “If a psychic wants me to believe in them, they need to call me at home and say, ‘Gary, you’re in terrible danger!’ and then prove it.” And then writing that very scenario.

I think my pattern is that I look at the ‘rules’ and try to find a way to turn them on their heads, at least to some extent.

And, you know, I think all writers do this to some extent. But the fact that it took me this long to see it is kind of funny, I guess. How boring would it be to read the same characters in the same stories handling the same situations in the same way, every time? (It would be like re-reading the same book over and over again.)

Now, how does that answer the question about themes? It doesn’t. At all. I suck at themes. I may have mentioned that.

Letters to ZellLetters to Zell by Camille Griep
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I unabashedly loved this book. It is full of humor and a lot of allusional gems to fairy tales and other works of beloved literature ranging from Oz to Narnia. And yet . . . it is not a frivolous story. These women (whom we would think of as Snow White (Bianca), Cinderella (CeCi), and Sleeping Beauty (Rory)) reveal real lives with real problems in their letters to their friend Zell (Rapunzel), who has recently upset their social structure by moving away with her husband and children to pursue her dream of raising unicorns. Her Pages (story) were done, so she was free to go “off-script,” as it were. In doing so, she allowed CeCi, Bianca, and Rory to dream of a different life after their Pages are completed.

But not every fairy tale ends with Happily Ever After. The friends have to find a new equilibrium as their relationships change, and yet fulfill their own Pages lest the very fabric of their reality (the Realm of fairy tales) is destroyed.

A wonderful read. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

View all my reviews


Memetic Dinner Parties

The Set Table by romanboed, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License   by  romanboed 

There’s this memetic question that people ask from time to time, and it’s a fun exercise. The question: “What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party?” One assumes, here, that any dead people you invite would be alive, again, for said party. Because otherwise that would kind of be a party killer, whether they remain corpses or become zombies. So, I picture it as more of the kind of thing as in that Babylon 5 episode “Day of the Dead,” where the dead come back, but only briefly, and without all the rotting or brain-eating. But I digress.

I don’t know why it’s always six, and I don’t know why it has to be a dinner party. Let’s assume that bonding over food is a thing all humans share, and that seven (because I’m the seventh person) is the largest group of people who can have any sort of meaningful conversation without it splintering into sub-conversations. Yeah, let’s assume those facts (that I just made up).

My answer to these memes is usually something along the lines of “my current friends,” because it’s an easy answer that is also very flattering to the person asking, because they’re in that group. It’s also true. I mean, that’s why they’re my friends. But it’s also beside the point.

The most recent time I saw the meme was on Facebook. Thanks to a conjunction of that appearance of the meme along with some videos I’d watched over the last few days, I realized I actually had an actual answer! But I will not be artificially constrained to just one party. Because . . . well, because reasons, that’s why.

. . .

Oh, fine. I think it’s important with any dinner party that your guests get along with one another, have things in common, and get along with one another (it bears repeating). I mean, you wouldn’t invite your loudmouth, racist uncle Bob to dinner with your Jewish or African-American friends, right? That would be inviting disaster. And we’re dealing not with just friends and family, we’re dealing with people throughout history.

(This is what is called “setting up the premise of the post.” See how seamlessly I did it? You’re welcome!)

I’m always kind of amused by people’s answers to this question. “Jeanne d’Arc, Jesus, Cleopatra, Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, and Madonna” would be a typical, ridiculous answer. It’s asking for trouble. It would be the worst dinner party ever. I mean, come on. Cleopatra and Madonna would get in a sexy-off contest (possibly involving underwear and snakes) while Einstein and Newton argued physics in at least three languages and Jesus tries to convince Jeanne not to slay everyone else for being heretics. Talk about a party buzz-kill. But it would make an awesome YouTube video. Guaranteed for millions of hits. But I digress once more.

So I decided that I’d have to have four parties. Because I immediately thought of four people in vastly different categories, and was fairly sure they would not get along, in the very unlikely event of a Day-of-the-Dead-style resurrection just to come to a dinner party thrown by a total stranger. So even though I had to have them, it would be kinder to them to have them in related groups. </premise set-up>

Also, these are for me to selfishly sit and bask in the inevitably wonderful conversation(s) that would grow organically. Or I’d toss a few leading statements out there to see how they’d react.

Party the First: Teh Science

These guys are not only scientists, they are all excellent at communicating complex ideas in science to the lay public. That’s me! I’m so lay, I might as well rhyme! I have just enough understanding of physics that I could probably follow them if they remembered to speak down to on my level. All of them have books or podcasts or TV shows or some combination of the three. The reason I put Ann Druyan and Carl Sagan on the same line is that they were married until Sagan’s death in 1996. They’re kind of a package deal. :)

Also, one of the tracks that is on the Voyager space probe’s golden record is a representation of Ann’s EEG while she’s thinking about how much she loves Dr. Sagan. I literally tear up every time I hear or read the story. So even without Dr. Sagan, she’d be on my list.

Party the Second: Teh Funny

Do I even need to justify or explain this list? I didn’t think so. Also, I’ll add that if you’ve never experienced the comedy of Adam Hills, you owe it to yourself to look him up on YouTube and/or NetFlix and just . . . enjoy. He definitely fits (as far as I’m concerned) with the other luminaries on the list.

I could add so, so many more people to that list.

I would, of course, have a supply of oxygen on hand, and some medication to ease my aching jaw and abdominal muscles from all the laughter.

Party the Third: Teh Fanboy/Squeebait

I would challenge the last three to collaborate on a project and hire the first three to star in it. I might also suggest that it wouldn’t suck if the project also included Drew Barrymore and Neil Patrick Harris. Just saying. And I would sit and squee with (barely suppressed inner) glee while the six of them tossed around ideas and then probably die of happy with a smile on my face that no mortician could ever eradicate. Just the thought of it makes me hyperventilate a little. Maybe I’d need the oxygen from the previous party.

Party the Fourth: Teh World-Changers

Malala Yousafzai impresses the absolute hell out of me, and her cause (making education available for all girls/women) is arguably one of the most important causes in the world. The Gateses, Musk, and Carter are accomplishing amazing good in the world. You may or may not agree with any of their politics (or religious views), but it’s hard to argue against their collective net positive effect on the world.

And, frankly, any group of world-changers without Fred Rogers would be woefully incomplete. He may not have literally saved the lives of millions of people or negotiated with world leaders or used his billions of dollars helping humanity, but his simple message of “You are worthy just as you are” goes very quietly right along with what the others are doing. Teresa Heinz Kerry (wife of John Kerry) said of Mr. Rogers, “He never condescended, just invited us into his conversation. He spoke to us as the people we were, not as the people others wished we were.” And that was his magic.

So these are my “dream teams” as it were. I only included seven people, total, who are not living, and those all died relatively recently. The rest are contemporaries. No historical people like Shakespeare or Leonardo da Vinci or Billie Holiday. Don’t get me wrong: those people are great. I just want people who could relate to the current state of the world.

People who know me won’t be at all surprised by the first three, but might raise an eyebrow at the last one. Good. I like surprising people who think they know me. :)

I could easily add several more themed parties.

A lot of people who know me might be surprised that there is no ‘authors’ group in there. There’s a simple reason for that: I literally have a plethora of interesting, intelligent, talented authors around me so often, there is no way I could limit it to merely six.

Who’s on your dream team(s)? What six people, living or dead, would you invite to a dinner party/-ies?

  1. Disaster is one guest that’s never on my list.
  2. It’s a pun! On two very different meanings of the word ‘lay’! . . . Trust me, it’s extremely funny.
  3. The story is here. It’s worth reading. Search for “I had this idea” and read. Or, you can listen to NPR’s Radio Lab’s interview with Ann Druyan about the EEG here. About seven and a half minutes.
  4. He has so many oars in the water, I couldn’t find just one website for him, so I linked his Wiki page with links to all his endeavors.

Guide to Social Media

This is a bit of a departure for this blog, but I figured, “What the heck?” and here it is. :)

Full disclosure: This was originally something I wrote on Facebook as a note. It was inspired by a comment on my friend Nick Falkner’s wall. I started to respond to Nick’s comment, and it got long, so I decided to create it as a note, instead. Another of my friends (Carol Cassara) liked it enough that she asked if she could host it as a guest post on her blog. I was (and am) quite flattered, and it ran on the 8th of December. I waited a few days to put it on my own blog so as not to steal Carol’s blog’s thunder. There may also be a few minor differences between what’s here and what’s on Carol’s blog and on my Facebook page. This is the “definitive copy.”

The characterizations herein are based solely on my personal experience with the sites. Sites I didn’t mention, I have no personal experience with. (Or I do, but couldn’t think of anything pithy to say.) Your mileage may vary, and that’s awesome. Feel free to comment with your own characterizations.


is my living room. I’m very careful about the people I invite in. I expect them to have a certain sense of decorum and to not leave garbage all over the place. I expect people I invite in to respect me and the other people in my home. Or if not respect, at least show tolerance. Or if not tolerance, just politely ignore me/them, or come back at a time when the others are not there. No one has to agree, but you don’t have to get in anyone’s face, either. I’m not always the most gracious host because I forget others are around, but I do at least try. If I overstep, I expect to be shown the error of my ways. I have certain rules, though, and if you break them, out you go. It is my living room, after all.


is the busiest train station downtown (the one where all the lines meet). Everyone is standing on their own soapboxes, shouting into the wind. Some of them use megaphones. A few people are gathered ’round some of the louder voices, listening intently, but most people are busy and hurry by without paying attention, occasionally looking up from their phone to listen for a few seconds, then moving on. Some people toss heart-shaped coins at speakers’ feet; others yell things at them. A lot of people are just animatronics blaring the same things over and over. A lot of people are just animatronics blaring the same things over and over. Other people just say the same things others are saying without contributing anything original. It’s kind of a mess to figure out which are which.


is the monorail station at Google HQ. Everyone is still standing on their own organic kale-boxes, but the only people listening are other geeks and nerds with the same cross-section of interests. Most everyone is wearing Google Glass, and some of them are tuning you out, even though they look like they’re in a circle around you. For some reason, a lot of people are intensely angry that they had to go through this station just to get to YouTube. It is an unnecessary stop . . .


is a bare-bones, designed community that has fallen into disrepair, and no one really goes there anymore, except on a dare. All the buildings look pretty, but if you examine them more closely, they’re all merely façades. They all say, “IN DEVELOPMENT” on the door. There are two people there, right now, wandering around on opposite ends of the subdivision saying, “Hello? Anyone there? Is anyone listening?” The guy who sold you the property led you to believe it was going to rival all the other communities, but now he’s nowhere to be found. Good luck getting a refund.


is looking at everyone’s boring vacation slideshow at the same time. Some of them are interesting, but most of the time it’s nothing anyone would ever want to see except your closest friends and family. The occasional celebrity shows up and everyone runs over to see their boring vacation slideshow. At least there are a lot of cats.


is looking at all of your great-aunts’ friends’ scrapbooks at the same time. All of them. They’ve all gone a little “off” and think they’re Martha Stewart, but deep down, they’re closer to Rod Stewart. You know they’re never going to try to do any of those things they put in their scrapbooks, and if they did, they’d never show the results.


is kiosks at Burning Man.


is the lunch room at the largest high school, ever. Everyone is so self-obsessed, it’s just a bunch of people standing around taking duck-face selfies and obsessing over finding just the right filter, while talking endlessly about themselves. There’s the occasional streaker, but they mostly seem to be looking at themselves, as well. No one stays for more than a few minutes, and then everyone forgets them, because me!


is the largest cineplex ever, and people just go from theater to theater, watching videos. Sometimes, you find yourself in a theater and wonder how you got there, but it’s OK, because the “safe” ones are just across the hall. Every time you turn a corner, you find another huge -plex of related content. The cat video -plex seems to be the most popular, but no matter what your interest is, if you keep looking, there’s a whole wing devoted to just that. Every once in a while, the RIAA or MPAA will send goons in and rip films out while they’re playing, but if you wander next door, someone already posted the same video. It’s probably in Portuguese with English subtitles, but it’s there. The films vary wildly in quality because it’s free to show them. In every theater is a group of 9-year-olds who shout ‘fat’ and ‘gay’ and ‘ugly’ and ‘go kill yourself’ and ‘first!’ because they’re at the age where they think that kind of thing is funny. Sit in the front with your bluetooth headset on and ignore everyone behind you and you’ll do fine.


is an infinity of iPads set up in an infinite theater lobby, each playing a six-second video that loops continuously. People wander from iPad to iPad. And then wonder where Tuesday went. Every six seconds, there’s an enormous laugh from the people clustered around the funniest clips.


is pretty big, like YouTube, but the theaters are all IMAX. You have to pay to get your videos on screen, so the quality is amazing, but other than that, it’s basically just like YouTube, only not as full of 9-year-olds.


is a diary that just happens to be public. You pour your heart out onto its pages, and other people copy it and share it without attribution, or draw a big pink heart on it to let you know they liked it.


is a break room full of water coolers where everyone you’ve ever worked with eventually shows up. Recruiters dash from cooler to cooler, desperately trying to get everyone’s attention. Every time someone gets a promotion or changes jobs, a PA announces it to the whole room. Everyone golf-claps. Occasionally, someone you barely remember shouts, “This guy/gal? S/he’s great at” some skill you don’t actually possess. You look around, embarrassed, and wonder who let them in. People you’re glad you no longer work with solicit you for recommendations and you have to pretend you didn’t hear them.


is a 70s disco. The people who are in there have no idea it’s not 1979. Don’t tell them. It’s . . . kinder, this way. ♩♪You should be daaaaanciiiiin’, YEAH!♬


is that apartment where you used to live in college, where all your friends were in and out at all times of the day and night, having lively discussions about anything. But then the Russian mafia took over the management right after you moved out. Now the security gate at the complex entrance is locked on more days than not. It’s too bad, because it used to be a really nice place.


is an infinite book store where readers and authors tear each other to shreds in public, while onlookers cheer with bloodlust, often turning on each other in the excitement. Meanwhile, in nooks scattered about, peaceful groups of readers and writers meet, ignoring the spectacle going on around them.


is a bulletin board in the rec room at a college dorm. People post all kinds of crazy stuff on it, and other people can move it around so it’s more (or less) visible. People hang smaller bulletin boards off the big one, but around corners so you have to go looking. Often, if you do, you find yourself scrambling back to the main board, wishing for eye-bleach.

Hope you enjoyed. I wrote it in about 20 minutes of inspiration, not giving a lot of thought to it, and it turns out to be one of the most popular posts I have made on Facebook. Go figure. Such is the fickle nature of humor. :)


NaNoWriMo 2015 Redux

I-have-not-failed---Edison by Inspiyr, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License   by  Inspiyr 

Let me start out by saying that, from the stated goal of NaNoWriMo, I failed. I wrote just over 20,000 words, which is my least successful NaNoWriMo run since 2007.


And it’s a big ‘however,’ as you can see by the font and bold and . . . SEE WHAT I DID THERE?

Anyway . . . I wrote 20,000 words that I do not hate. This is something that I’m still having a problem believing. I haven’t liked anything I’ve written for a long time, aside from some flash pieces. So the fact that I have this foundation to work with is heartening, so I don’t really consider this a loss so much as a good start.

Now, I just have to keep my momentum going. I have characters, a plot, clues I have to drop, lead-ins for the next two books to subtly hint at . . . and now I just need to put butt in chair, hands on keyboard, and follow through. Which is easier when you sit down and don’t hate what you’re writing. Hence the lack of posts on this blog over the last . . . long time.

For added incentive, I sort of have to get this to a point I like before too long. I am going to Paradise Lost VI in San Antonio, TX, in April, 2016. In the critique track. So I have to have, you know . . . a thing to critique. I think it’s something like the first x chapters or the first x,000 words, plus a synopsis. I think I have enough that I could conceivably do the synopsis now, and maybe even use that as the outline for writing the rest of the novel.

Me? Do an outline? I’d be practically unrecognizable!

A while back, I posted something about J. K. Rowling’s method for plotting the Harry Potter series. After I posted that, I played around with the format until I landed on something I could maintain. I have a spreadsheet with columns for all my plot lines and rows for days/chapters. It was surprisingly easy to lay out several linear plot lines. I’ve known what has to happen in my story for a long time. It’s all that wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff where you have to smush them together into something coherent that was the issue. Because I kept trying to do that on the fly. I’ve been a pantser for as long as I’ve been writing. This whole ‘planning’ schtick is . . . hard.

There are twenty-one work days in December (plus four weekends and a two-day work holiday). Of those twenty-one, I will be at the office for only eleven. This means that for roughly two thirds of December, I will be at home. With nothing to do. Except write. If, that is, I can avoid the time-sucks that are Facebook and Twitter. And Codex. And Goodreads. And Reddit. And YouTube. And podcasts.

I may have a . . . slight problem.

Maybe what I’m leading up to is to take a month off social media to work on actual things that matter to me, or so I keep telling myself.

In other news, by the way, I have been submitting one story for publication. I’m currently waiting on a rejection from its fourth market so I can send it on to the fifth one. The waiting is the hardest part, because some markets have wait times measured in months. And this is a humorous, science fiction, flash piece. The number of markets is quite limited. :) I have other pieces I’m working on to get ready for submission, and will start those as soon as I think they’re done. And then have one or two people look them over to make sure there’s nothing else I can cut.

I could set an actual goal for December, if I put my mind to it. Something like . . . let’s say, getting two — no, three — more stories (of any length) ready for submission before 31 December.

There! I did it! I set a goal. An actual goal! And it’s a SMART goal, I think.

Which, of course, gives me the perfect opportunity to put a progress meter up for the actual writing of my novel, and for the SMART goal.

No, it’s not an elaborate form of procrastination. Really.

  1. This is not me being a pessimist. This is me being realistic. :) I’m not at the level in my writing where stories get accepted more than rejected, yet. Because I don’t write and submit as much as I should.
  2. Specific (3). Measurable (stories ready for submission). Achievable (it’s a stretch, but I can do it). Relevant (to my personal goals; duh). Time-bound (by December 31st, 2015).

NaNoWriMo? Again? Already?

NaNoWriMo 2015 Participant Banner

NaNoWriMo 2015 Participant Banner

Last year (2014), I didn’t participate in NaNoWriMo because . . . frankly, I 1) had no new ideas, 2) wasn’t particularly enthused with the thought of doing it again, and 3) wasn’t sure NaNoWriMo had anything left to teach me.

And this year, I was in pretty much the same mindset. Until.

Three things occurred roughly simultaneously, then a fourth one happened that pushed me to the point where I am right now; i.e., considering doing NaNoWriMo again for 2015. I’m not 100% sure, mind you, but . . . there are processes that are . . . um, processing. In my brain.

Thing the First. I went to WorldCon, thoroughly enjoyed myself (other than the trips to and from the con, that is), and decided pretty much on the spur of some moment or other to go ahead and register not only for the 74th WorldCon in Kansas City, MO in 2016, but the 75th WorldCon, as well. That one’s in Helsinki, Finland, in 2017. I’m quite excited about both of those, actually. I’ve already registered for 74 and paid my dues and all that. I’m applying for a passport in about a month for the trip to Helsinki. I already have flight alerts for both trips set up so I can get good prices. Alternatively, I check the price of driving to Kansas City, MO each Monday to see if it’s more than the price of the flight. If not, I may just drive.

Thing the Second. A friend (Karl) happened to mention on Facebook that registration was open for Paradise Lost 6 Writers Workshop. Paradise Lost is only open to people who have participated in certain other workshops (Viable Paradise, Taos Toolbox), or who are a member of Codex Writers. I am both a graduate of Viable Paradise (in 2012) and a member of Codex Writers. So yay.

Once again, on the spur of some moment I wasn’t aware of until it had passed, I registered for it. It’s in San Antonio, TX in April of 2016. I already have a flight alert for the trip set up so I can get a good price. Alternatively, I check the price of driving to San Antonio, TX each Monday to see if it’s more than the price of the flight. If not, I may just drive.

Thing the Second-and-a-Halfth. When I registered, there was the option of registering for the workshop only or the critique track. For critique, you have to read some other people’s submissions and critique them, and submit something for critique yourself. The workshop is in April. On the spur of yet another moment, I threw caution to the wind and clicked on “critique track.”

Which means one thing: I better get my butt in a chair and my hands on a keyboard.

Thing the Third. I started reading — and very much enjoying — Debra Jess‘s wonderful book Blood Surfer: A Thunder City Novel. It’s an urban science fiction . . . fantasy . . . kind of a thing. Basically, super heroes plus romance. It’s very good, so far. I’m going slowly because I’m also reading another friend’s novel at the same time, this one for critique.

Thing the Fourth. A lot of my blog posts contain this phrase, but it is, nonetheless, true: so, I was in the shower . . .

So, I was in the shower and this . . . idea just popped into my head. Not quite fully formed, but my brain decided to dwell on it during my commute to work. And while I was at work. And on my drive home from work. And as I lay in bed that night waiting for sleep. And the next morning. And . . . well, you get the point. And then, this morning, after the spectre of NaNoWriMo had been broached by the Forum Writers (my standing Tuesday night critique group), my brain went into overdrive and I dictated many ideas into my little digital voice recorder on the way to work.

I won’t go into great and glorious detail on what the idea was, but I will give you the first sentence that was what popped into my head in the shower that morning: “Hero Man often wished the press had given him a more . . . well, magnificent name.”

That’s all you get. :)

I will, however, add that all this comes just two short weeks until November 1st, which leaves me very little time to actually plan out anything, which is where my reluctance to commit comes in. Also, my Apple MacBook died. With Scrivener on it. I write everything in Scrivener. So I need to get a new laptop, regardless.

  1. I keep meaning to post a write-up of what happened at the con. And I have started the posts. But I keep having interruptions. (Stupid work. Stupid real life.) But I’ll get to them. Eventually. Probably.
  2. Debra was in Viable Paradise with me in 2012.
  3. I listen to podcasts on the way to and from work. The one I listened to this morning happened to be a back episode of The Round Table Podcast during which the guys brainstormed and workshopped a superhero novel. If I believed in such things, I’d think this was the Universe sending me a strong message. Good thing I don’t believe in that sort of thing. :)

WorldCon 2015 Post #2

Perhaps you read my adventure going to WorldCon 73 in Spokane, WA. If not, go do that. I’ll wait.

<Elevator music: an all-pan-flute rendition of “Bingo Jed Had a Light On.”>

Back? Good. Now, allow me to relate my adventures coming home from said convention, also in the form of a story I shall call “The Boy What Were An Moran, Part Too [sic].”

But first! I suppose I should get a thing or two out of the way. I had fun in Spokane, in spite of the fact that there is pretty much literally a ring of fire surrounding the city. There were two days when the air quality sucked so egregiously that the con organizers told everyone to limit their outdoor activities. People were walking around wearing surgical masks. The area of the con (the Convention Center and Riverfront Park) could not have been more lovely and convenient, at least for me. I stayed in a Best Western right across the street, and all the activities I had planned were a short walk. The weather — ignoring the whole ‘ring of fire’ thing — was spectacular. I had a nice walk around the park on the last day of the con.

And now, without much further ado . . .

The Boy What Were An Moran, Part Too [sic]

You read Part Won [sic] of the story, so you know that the hapless protagonist, Gary (a.k.a. “The Boy Who Were an Moran”) foolishly left his photo ID at home — in the valet on the shelf in his closet back in Atlanta before flying to Spokane where he would desperately need it — when traveling by air. Not on purpose, but because he was so intent on making sure that he didn’t carry any extraneous cards along, he managed to leave that very important one. But that’s all in the past. As we learned in Part Won [sic], getting out of Atlanta wasn’t (much of) a problem. (This is called ‘foreshadowing.’)

Getting out of Spokane? An airport approximately 28 times smaller (in passengers per year) than Atlanta? Way easier, right? Wrong! Gary did the same thing, there, that he did in Atlanta. He approached the KTN queue and explained his situation. The patient, friendly TSA agent furrowed his brow and called his supervisor. When Mr. Supervisor-man finally responded some twenty minutes later, however, he was not impressed by Gary’s moranity [sic]. He kept asking Gary over and over if he had some form of photo ID, and obviously did not truly believe our hero’s response of, “No, sir, I’m sorry.” Mr. Supervisor-man gave Gary several suspicious side-eye glances. These failed to entice the Universe to cause his photo ID to miraculously appear in his wallet. He checked. Stupid Universe.

Mr. Supervisor-man then directed Gary to leave the TSA Pre™ line and get into the regular line with the rest of the unwashed public. Then he had to go through the whole explanation again with the patient, friendly TSA-woman in that line. It was like déjà vu all over again! It was like déjà vu all over again!

Gary ended up getting the full-body x-ray. And the post-x-ray pat down. And his bags searched. And he had to take off his shoes and belt. The many TSA agents who performed all these tasks were all very polite and professional, and Gary was good-natured about the whole thing. He tried joking a little with the nice, hard-working TSA agents.

“Do you have any sensitive areas where it’s painful to be touched?” asked the kind, young TSA agent wearing blue gloves.

“I guess we’ll find out,” answered Gary in a weak attempt at something vaguely resembling a thing that once had a heartfelt desire to someday be humor, but started drinking young and never really achieved its goals.

TSA: Not. Even. A. Smile.

“Just a tip,” Gary said to one of them, because learning is apparently not his thing, “don’t ever leave home without your photo ID.” Big, sheepish grin.

TSA: Not. Even. A. Smile.

“I’m going to change gloves,” said one agent. Gary said, “I would appreciate that.”

TSA: Not. Even. A. Smile.

Three strikes! You’re out!

Lesson: TSA doesn’t have a sense of humor. It’s in the handbook. It’s not even clear that they realize those are allowed aboard an airplane.

So Gary went back to just using ‘sir’ and ‘ma’am’ and smiling. A lot. And instantly doing anything they told him to do. A lot. And thanking them for doing it. A lot.

As an aside, the pat-down is nowhere near as intrusive as people make it out to be. Granted, Gary did have to re-tuck his shirt into his pants because the TSA agent ran his gloved hands along the inside of Gary’s pants’ waistband. The nice, patient TSA agents swabbed their gloves afterwards and put the swab into a machine that sniffed for explosives residue (one assumes).

As an aside within the aside, Gary was glad that the smoke particles wafting around in the air around Spokane didn’t count as explosives residue. That would have been . . . unpleasant.

They swabbed Gary’s backpack and carry-on luggage. They examined — and swabbed — every item in both of those. They opened literally everything and examined it, including his glasses cases (yes, plural), his Kindles (yes, plural), his laptop, his phone, and his digital voice recorder.

As another aside within the aside, Gary was glad he didn’t have anything embarrassing in his possessions, because all of this was all out in the open. The friendly, kind TSA agents asked him if he wanted the search done privately, but he said, “Nah, it’s fine.”

They did all of this very efficiently and quickly, and put things back . . . roughly where they had been.

After that, our intrepid, photo-ID-less traveler was allowed to continue on his way! Since he didn’t have a hotel or convention registration to look forward to for the rest of the trip, everything would be smooth sailing, right? (This is called ‘foreshadowing.’)

That morning, he had given himself an extra half-hour to get through the Spokane airport. The hotel clerk the night before when he had scheduled his taxi said, “It’s a really small airport. I’ve gotten there thirty minutes before my flight and made it with plenty of time to spare.” He still gave himself nearly an hour and twenty minutes. He was glad he did! Because by the time all of the above festivities were done, Gary made it to the gate literally just as they called A-zone boarding, and he walked directly from the TSA not-quite-a-strip-search onto the plane. Alas, he had intended to use the extra time to buy a Coke Zero (nectar of the gods) and some snacks for the flights. Oh, well.

We should take another moment, here, and exposit a bit of Gary’s family background, giving away some of what is to come. His mother and he share something that they call ‘the heebie-jeebies.’ It’s when one gets so tired that no position is comfortable. Sitting? Uncomfortable! Reclining? Uncomfortable! Standing? Uncomfortable! Lying down? Uncomfortable! You simply must move. You simply cannot remain still another second. The compulsion to just get the hell up and move the hell around is very nearly unignorable. We now return you to your regular storytime, already in progress.

The flight from Spokane to Las Vegas is only like two hours. Maybe two and a half, being generous. And even though Southwest Airlines has a policy of no assigned seats so one can sit wherever one wants, Gary blithely ignored this (because he’s used to flying Delta, who does assign seats) and went all the way to the back of the plane and took a window seat even though he prefers the aisle seat. Why? Because he didn’t want to have to get up to let people past him. (Did you notice the foreshadowing that time? Because, frankly, it was pretty darned blatant, and we’re getting tired of pointing it out. In fact, you’re on your own from here on out.)

About an hour into the two(ish)-hour flight, Gary had a truly epic attack of the heebie-jeebies.

A comedian once remarked that airline seats are designed for twelve-year-old, anorexic, Japanese school girls.

Our intrepid hero has exactly not that physique. He is rather round. He is sufficiently beyond twelve. He is not Japanese. Although that particular quality is not necessary to the argument at hand, it does parallel the remark of the comedian, thereby creating a satisfying feeling of completion to the comparison. (Yet another literary trick.)

It should be noted here that the couple who seated themselves in the aisle and middle seats to Gary’s right had promptly both fallen fast asleep as soon as the plane began to move. There may have been snoring and/or drool. When the heebie-jeebies hit, there was literally nowhere to go. He could not stand in place, nor could he find a comfortable position. He fidgeted and bounced his knees and squirmed like a two-year-old on cocaine. He tried distracting mental games. Nothing worked.

In addition to the diminutive dimensions of an airline seat, the materials used to construct same are not made for comfort. Gary began to sweat because of the constant fidgeting and the heat-retaining material from which the chair is constructed. The more he fidgeted, the worse he sweated. The more he sweated, the more uncomfortable he became. But then, at last! The couple awoke when a flight attendant came around with snacks, and Gary took the opportunity to ask to get up to visit the restroom.

If airline seats are designed for twelve-year-old, anorexic, Japanese school girls, the restrooms are designed for their four-year-old, equally anorexic sisters. Or, quite possibly, for members of some alien species that do not in any way resemble humans. Perhaps the blue water in the toilet is some form of alien nutrient. Gary moistened a paper towel (in the sink, not in the aforementioned blue nutrient solution) and used it to cool down his face and neck, which helped slightly to ease the heebie-jeebies. He returned to his seat.

The rest of the flight passed in moderate discomfort because Gary had sweated through all of his clothing, including his socks. He had also sweated through the seatbelt. He felt a certain sense of chagrin at this, and mentally apologized to the next hapless individual who had to sit in seat 21A.

Yes, Gary had become That Guy No One Wants To Have To Sit Next To™. But it wasn’t like it was a choice. Well, technically, it was a choice, because of the whole ‘no assigned seating’ thing. But we’ve covered that.

Finally, the plane landed in Las Vegas. Temperature outside: 105° Fahrenheit. (105 – 32 / 1.8)° Celsius. Do your own math.

The plane landed and attached to a gate at the far end of the C concourse (C-12). The connecting flight to Atlanta was at the far end of the B concourse (B-16). Because of course it was. Gary had approximately two hours, but he didn’t know that, because he was exhausted from the unrelenting heebie-jeebies, wet with sweat, and tired from lack of sleep and therefore unable to do time math in his head and he wasn’t sure whether Las Vegas was even in the same time zone as Spokane, and he had turned his phone on Airplane mode and then forgotten to take it off, so it kept saying it was one time when actually it was an hour later, but he was adding two hours . . . and math is hard.

In short, by the time Gary made it off the plane, he firmly believed he had only thirty-five minutes to make it all the way across the airport instead of the hour and thirty-five minutes it actually was.

In another completely unsurprising aside, we will now explain that the Las Vegas airport, thanks to it being Freaking Hot° W outside, was about 80° to 82° F inside. Add to this that the entire square footage of the airport is designed to bleed the very last cent from trapped travelers by enticing them to GAMBLE GAMBLE GAMBLE, thereby reducing the usable walkways to about 1/3 the size of every other airport Gary has ever seen, and you get a very slow, impeded, annoying, uncomfortable trek across the entire expanse of airport. Behind slow people who likely had approximately twenty-six hours (judging by their walking speed) to get to their gate. And Gary had only had breakfast, and that was some seven hours ago. And he had had nothing to drink since then except the approximately three drops of liquid in the ice-filled plastic half-cup of beverage the flight attendants served during the heebie-jeebie-inducing flight.

In short, Gary “ran” “pell-mell” through the “airport” trying to make it to the gate before the connecting flight began boarding.

He made it! With three minutes to spare! Only . . . no plane was at the gate. And people were blithely sitting around reading instead of boarding the non-existent plane. Had it already left? Oh, crap! Had he, in fact, missed the flight?

No. Time math. Is hard. He finally remembered to turn off airplane mode on his phone and discovered he had an entire hour! Whew! He remembered passing a Wendy’s and went to get a burger, fries, and a Coke Zero (nectar of the gods). He sat at the gate to inhale his food. Normally, this would be a cool-down period. But the airportcasino was > 80 degrees. He soaked through his clothes again. Ugh!

When, at last, the plane for Atlanta boarded, Gary was (finally) smart! He sat on an aisle! In row four! He took his shoes off! He had the remnants of his Coke Zeronectar! The flight (more than four whopping hours) went with only minor heebie-jeebies, but since Gary was sitting on the aisle, this time, he was able to stand with impunity and move around! Sure, he sweated through his clothes (and seatbelt) again, but at this point, damp clothing was de rigeur! We hear it’s all the rage in Paris next year!

Finally! The plane descended slightly from the sky! Gary’s ears began to pop! He knew he was almost home! He could get off the miserable aircraft and wallow in the sweet, sweet bliss of a car blasting air conditioning, and then sleep in his own bed with his own damned pillow!

The plane landed. It taxied along the runway! It was within sight of the gate! And then . . .

Gary was annoyed when the plane taxied to a complete stop. Outside, many flashing lights split the night sky. Ambulances. EMTs. Firetrucks. Police. Probably other things. It was very festive.

The pilot came on and told the passengers that the plane directly in front of them — a Delta™ plane — was being towed by a hydraulic tow-tractor when a catastrophic malfunction occurred. In short, the tow-tractor spewed highly toxic hydraulic fluid in giant arcs all over the place, contaminating the entire area! It was very festive.

Gary and the other passengers had to sit on the plane and wait. With little to no air conditioning, no water, and no bathroom (they were not allowed to get out of their seats) until things were cleared up.

About twenty minutes in, the airport messaged the pilots to allow the passengers water and bathroom. Meanwhile, ten more planes had landed and were waiting behind Gary’s plane. No more planes would be allowed to land until the toxic spill had been cleaned. When the airport finally got their ducks in a row, they decided to re-route the waiting planes on the ground around the contaminated area and put them at alternate gates. All connecting flights were being held so Gary’s fellow passengers would not be stuck in Atlanta overnight. But since Gary’s plane was first in line behind the Delta flight, it meant they would be last getting re-routed. How festive!

It took, all total, about an hour to get everything rerouted.

To make a long story very slightly less annoying, he finally made it to baggage claim, his ride home, and his own bed and his own damned pillow.

And so he lived happily ever afterslept the sleep of a dead, exhausted, sweat-damp, heebie-jeebied-out thing.


We hope you enjoyed the second story as much as the first. If you enjoyed either one, of course.

The Moral of the Story: Flying sucks.

As a final coda, I was not kidding — I mean, I was joking and making light, but I was not actually making anything up — about how nice, professional, and helpful the TSA agents were. All joking aside, I actually went to their website and filled out a form complimenting the agents in both airports for doing their jobs efficiently, competently, and with a minimum of attitude, and not making me feel any more like an idiot than I already did. I imagine they get very few such comments, what with people being people, and refusing to accept responsibility for their own actions (such as leaving their photo ID in a valet on the shelf in their closet in Atlanta when they’re desperately going to need it).

  1. “Jet Airliner” by Steve Miller Band. See, it’s kind of like a theme for the post . . .
  2. I apologize profusely for putting Johnny Cash’s song “Ring of Fire” in your head. Really. No, really.
    OK, I don’t. Because it’s a great song, and you should have it in your head more often. Like now.
  3. Gary decided that he did not need his AAA card, Zoo Atlanta membership card, insurance cards, Costco membership card, Sam’s Club membership card, Barnes and Noble card, or the credit card he uses exclusively online. Or so he thought! In the press of time to get packed, he took all the cards out and only put back in the ones that were on his aforementioned two-page checklist. Photo ID wasn’t on that.
    It is now. :)
  4. Two by two, hands of blue! Aieeeeeee!
  5. He is, in fact, sufficiently beyond four times twelve.
  6. Whatever scale you like. F, C, K, A . . . knock yourself out.
  7. Have we mentioned that Gary is, at this point, unable to do time-math in his head?
  8. Casino.
  9. This is one way Gary and his mother can occasionally stave off the heebie-jeebies. If their feet are comfortable, the rest of the body follows suit. Usually.
  10. In both the ATL and GEG airports, TSA specifically asked if Gary had his CostCo card on his person (after him saying, specifically, that he only had two credit cards). Apparently, a CostCo card can serve as sufficient photo ID. Remember this useful piece of information!
  11. It’s a Firefly reference.

WorldCon 2015 Post #1

Get a Brain, Morans by Eexlebots, on Flickr
Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License   by  Eexlebots 

Here’s a little story I wrote called, “The Boy Who Were an Moran.” [sic]

The Boy Who Were an Moran [sic]

Gary woke up on the day he was supposed to fly out of Atlanta to Spokane for WorldCon 73 and instantly tore both his corneas. Oh, no! He then had to sleep an extra hour so he could use his eyes at all. What a day for this to happen!

Then, Atlanta traffic was spectacularly horrendous, so the 45-minute drive (his housemate drove him) to the airport — the busiest in the world! — turned into an hour and a half. As each second ticked on the clock, Gary could feel the missed flight! But there was nothing he could do because teleportation is inconveniently still impossible.

He made it to the airport — the busiest in the world! — just barely in time to make it through check-in. He had noticed on the drive to the airport — the busiest in the world! — that his Known Traveler Number had not made it onto the tickets he had printed out the night before when he did early check-in while he was packing.

While we’re at it, let’s take a moment to mention that Gary made a two-page checklist for packing that he meticulously followed. To. The. Letter. [This is called ‘foreboding.’]

He made it to the SouthWest Airlines desk in the airport — the busiest in the world! — and informed the polite ticketing agent that he needed a printed ticket with his TKN on it.

The polite agent asked for his photo ID.

I should interject, here, that, on Gary’s aforementioned (and foreboding) two-page checklist which he followed to the letter were ‘wallet’ and ‘cash.’ [This is called ‘establishing a pattern.’]

Gary reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. He thumbed past his Coin card, his Discover card, his Visa ATM card . . . and that was all the cards that were in his wallet! Oh, no!

He pulled them out and looked at them again. Tragically, none of them had magically changed into a driver’s license. How, he wondered furiously, was that fair? Didn’t the Universe know he needed his photo ID?

He informed the polite agent that he did not have his photo ID. She, surprisingly, did not have a problem with this. She gave him his tickets and sent him on his way.

Chastising himself bitterly with every step, he made his way to the TSA area of the airport — Have I mentioned that it’s the busiest in the world? The line was very, very, very long. So long, in fact, that he felt his stomach and other internal organs sink into his lower abdomen. His flight would leave in only 40 minutes! He didn’t have time for this!

Wielding his tickets, he swallowed hard and got in the TSA Pre™ line anyway. It wouldn’t hurt to at least try, right?

The polite TSA agent asked him for his photo ID. Gary explained what had happened and added that his license was sitting in his closet in the valet where he had apparently put it after making very sure that his wallet contained credit cards and money. Which were on his two-page checklist, right before where ‘driver’s license’ wasn’t.

She said, “Do you have any other form of Id with a picture on it? Passport?” He shook his head “no.” He similarly shook his head “no” for all her follow-up questions. For he had also left home without his insurance cards (they were (presumably) with his driver’s license), library card, ZooAtlanta membership card, Barnes & Noble card, CostCo card, two other credit cards, and a Sam’s Club card — which is the only other card he owns that has his photo on it. A 15-year-old photo, but a photo nevertheless.

“I’ll get my supervisor,” she explained, and did just that by calling for one on the PA. Gary waited patiently (really!) while ten, fifteen, twenty people were processed through the short line.

Finally, a supervisor came over! He asked the same questions the polite TSA Pre™ agent had asked, and Gary answered as before. He added, “I have a credit card and a debit card, my phone, and business cards.”

As it turns out, the debit card and credit card were enough! He was allowed through! He didn’t have to remove his shoes or take his laptop out of his bag, but did have to go through the “Naked X-Ray” device because he wears shoes with giant metal springs in the heels.

He made it to the gate with only minutes to spare, and boarded without incident! Whew!

Thanks to the adrenaline rush of thinking he was going to miss his flight, Gary had no time to eat more than the breakfast his housemate had made, and that had been a full two hours before. He started to feel a little shaky. The snacks the airline provided were barely enough.

Looking at his flight itinerary, Gary noticed that he would have only a few minutes at Denver to make it from whatever gate he arrived at to whatever gate his connecting flight would depart from. His internal organs sank again! In the Atlanta airport — the busiest in the world! — this almost always means running pell-mell through the airport from gate A1 to Z99 only to arrive, winded, at the departing gate with no time to spare. When would he get lunch?

Just before landing, the flight attendant announced that the gate for Spokane was only a few gates away! Hurray! He’d have time — barely! — to get lunch before boarding. If, that is, nothing went wrong.

He found a McDonald’s in the airport and ordered, and made it back to his gate literally two minutes into the boarding process. Only . . . the plane wasn’t boarding.

In fact, the plane wasn’t even at the gate. In fact, the gate had moved.

All the way across the airport!

With all the other passengers waiting patiently (really!) for the flight to arrive, Gary high-tailed it across the airport to the new gate, only to find out the flight had been delayed by one hour! Plenty of time to eat his lunch!

Practically everyone on the flight was headed to WorldCon. He spoke briefly with some other passengers about that, and got some advice on how to get from the airport to the vicinity of the con hotel.

He made it to his hotel (address: on the two-page checklist) without any problems, after having a nice conversation with the cab driver about all the fires around Spokane.

He gave the polite clerk at the hotel desk his information (on the two-page checklist), and they asked . . . for his photo ID.

He explained what had happened and they looked up his name. And didn’t find it. They looked up his reservation number (on the two-page checklist). And didn’t find it. They looked up other information that he gave. And didn’t find it.

The polite clerk’s manager asked if it was possible the reservation was under a different name. [This is also called ‘foreboding.’] Gary said, “No, I’m sure it’s not.” He then spelled his name meticulously, since he often gets called Greg Anderson, Perry Hendrickson, and about a hundred other incorrect names on a routine basis.

Finally, he used his phone to email the reservation information he had received from the hotel chain to the polite manager. Meanwhile, the polite clerk took his information again and issued another reservation.

As Gary was leaving the check-in desk for the elevator, the polite manager returned and said, “I found your reservation number under the name ‘William Hubbard.’ Do you know a ‘William Hubbard’?”

No. No, he did not.

The polite manager said she would fix it and not to worry.

After stowing his luggage in his room, Gary walked to the convention center to register for WorldCon and get his badge.

You know what’s coming. I think it’s obvious at this point.

Turns out that although the TSA and Best Western were OK with not having a photo ID because you stupidly left it in the valet on the shelf in your closet in Atlanta before flying to Spokane where you would desperately need it, WorldCon is not. He was directed to leave the very short registration line and stand in the much, much longer ‘Problems’ line. Another polite waiter-in-line suggested that if they Googled his name and it came up with his picture — which it most certainly would — that should be proof enough. Gary clung to this possibility.

But it also turns out that when you explain the situation — how you left your photo ID in the valet on the shelf in your closet back in Atlanta before flying to Spokane where you would desperately need it — and they call up your information and ask you to give them your address and it matches, that’s enough to get your registration card! Sweet!


The Moral of the Story: Put ‘photo ID’ on your stupid two-page checklist.

Stay tuned for the next, exciting episode of ‘The Boy Who Were an Moran [sic]’ in which Gary tries to maneuver his way through a week without needing his photo ID because he stupidly left it in the valet on the shelf in his closet in Atlanta before flying to Spokane where he would desperately need it.


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.

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