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Thank You, 8413494 and 3485761!

   Posted by: admin   in Musings

I’m not all me. Haven’t been since May of last year. Part of me is from an organ donor. I’m grateful more than I can express, and I’ve been thinking about it this week.

I witnessed a car accident a few days ago on my way home from the day job. A small sedan (nobody has ever accused me of being a gearhead, and I was moving along at 45 MPH, so “sedan” is the best I’ve got) decided to slow nearly to a stop. This isn’t uncommon on that stretch of road, where there’s no left turn lane but many businesses and cross streets. In the left lane, rush hour traffic can be a game of Red Light, Green Light (you may have to search childhood memories for that one). The SUV behind the sedan reacted quickly and stopped a few feet short of hitting the sedan. The pickup truck behind the SUV was not so fast to the brake pedal. Honestly, I’m not sure the pickup hit the brakes at all.

I think the SUV then bumped the sedan, but I can’t be sure. I was busy ducking small chunks of plastic bouncing off my window. The back bumper of the SUV ceased to exist, and I saw the crumpled front end of the pickup in my rear view mirror as I passed by. I thought of stopping to make sure everyone was okay, but that would’ve only caused congestion in the right lane and, I admit, there’s always that inkling that someone else is already on top of it.

Besides, there are seatbelt laws, so everyone was probably fine even though it was a pretty good hit.

Then I got home and wondered how I could know that for sure. Which, perhaps being self-absorbed, made me think, “What if that had been me instead of the SUV?” I had been ahead of that pickup truck earlier but having driven that stretch of road every day for the last five years, I knew to switch to the right lane. Sometimes, traffic doesn’t allow the switch, and I’m stuck with Red Light, Green Light. What if yesterday had been one of those days? I drive a Subaru Impreza Outback Sport (we now reach the limit of my vast car knowledge). It’s hardly a large automobile, and I can only imagine the damage that it would’ve sustained. I’d probably have been launched over the sedan instead of into it. Or maybe that’s just the writer in me being overly dramatic.

I’m really not one for what ifs, and I’m not all that concerned about damage to my car, but I did feel lucky as I heard the crack of plastic and the crunch of metal. My mind’s ear immediately heard the spinal surgeon I’d met a little under a year ago.

“If you are in a rear-end car accident, you’ll probably be paralyzed.”

At the time, I had bone spurs on some vertebrae, a bulging disk (between C6 and C7, if that means anything to you), and severe degeneration due to arthritis in my neck. The disk pinched the nerve that runs down my left arm, sometimes giving false tightness to the muscles as if I’d worked out too hard, and sometimes shooting sharp pains that were so intense I couldn’t concentrate on simple conversations.

The bone spurs needed to be filed down and the bulging disk had to go. But the arthritis was so bad that replacing just one disk would put an unbearable strain on the disk above. Yikes! I was a mess!

On May 9, 2011, I had a double cervical spinal fusion (I was asked to repeat that three times after coming out of surgery—apparently, it’s a better indication that you’re doing fine than answering “Who’s the current President?”). I’m told artificial disks last about 15 years, so at my age (forty-three and three-quarters at the time), I would be guaranteed another spinal surgery before turning sixty. I chose the donor option instead.

Two separate donors supplied bone (from the pelvis, I think, but don’t quote me on it). I don’t know their names, where they are from, why they chose to donate, or how they enriched the lives around them. I only know the lot numbers for the bone grafts. And I know that they were good people who have changed at least one life for the better. They did so in death, and I suspect that they’ve improve more than just my life. And while alive, I’d like to believe that they constantly made others’ days brighter.

I’ve had the dream of being a novelist since the eighth grade. I finally saw that dream fulfilled last August when Good Deeds became available as an eBook. The novella The Evolution of Mortality followed. I’m currently working on two more novels and another novella, and I have a dozen other stories battling inside my head to be next, with new ones joining the fray all the time. Like I said, I’m not much of a what if guy, but what if I hadn’t changed lanes that day?

I’ll tell you what if—I’d still be pursuing my dreams because two people gave of themselves so that I could be stronger. I wish I could thank them in person.

Your personal beliefs might not agree with organ donation. That’s perfectly fine with me. You should follow your heart. But if your heart says that being a donor is okay, and you haven’t registered, I urge you to do so. It’s easy. And you might give someone a chance to follow his or her dream.

You can register to be a donor at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services here.

If you’d care to share in my dream, both Good Deeds and The Evolution of Mortality can be found here.

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Making a Difference in 10 (Easy?) Steps

   Posted by: admin   in Musings

Many may find the life of an indie author very tedious. Trying to break into the business is a long process of dedication and hard work. You have to absolutely love storytelling. Remember your senior year English term paper? It’s like that, but on steroids. It goes like this:

  1. Draft your novel. This can take anywhere from a few days to a few months to a few years.
  2. Sit on it for a while and start another novel, novella, or short story. This gets you away from the first story so you can return to it with a fresh set of eyes.
  3. Return to it. Read it. Revise it. It’s not reading for pleasure or to pat yourself on the back. It’s a slow, laborious task of finding flaws in grammar, spelling, and the fact that maybe one of your characters put a rifle in the trunk of his car on page 57 but it’s never mentioned again. So, you fix those problems to help the story ring true.
  4. Revise it again because you know that there’s always something to improve upon.
  5. Again! There’s a scene or two that still doesn’t ring true, and you know it. But it’s getting harder to find the mistakes because you’re now so familiar with the words that you’re not sure you’re even reading them anymore.
  6. Send it to a few trusted friends for their feedback. These have to be people that love you enough to tell you when you’re wrong. Even then, they are your friends, so you have to take what they say with a grain of salt.
  7. Consider what you were told to fix, understanding that some of the feedback may go against your vision but is also coming from a subset of your market, so maybe there’s more validity in the criticism than you’d like. Revise again.
  8. Send the manuscript to an editor to find all the mistakes you and your loved ones didn’t notice. There will be some, I promise.
  9. Search for a publisher. Or you may self-publish like many new authors these days. Whatever avenue you’re comfortable with that gets your words to prospective fans.
  10. Wait, wait, wait for sales so that you can finally quit your day job and only write, write, write.

I’m being a little over-disparaging here on purpose. I’m not complaining or looking for sympathy. Nor am I trying to speak for other authors. But I do want to illustrate what goes into writing a novel so that I can talk about a specific author and the sacrifices he’s made in the midst of all that hard work.

If you purchase an R.S. Guthrie book, he’ll donate at least 50% to the tuition of a young man with autism and Down Syndrome. Special needs schools like The Joshua School are expensive, and Rob Guthrie has found a way to help his friends and their son. If you purchase from his website, he’ll also send you a signed copy of the book and the donation percentage increases! This is a man who loves storytelling. If he could, I believe that Rob would sit all day in his Colorado home and type, type, type, until he had a bookshelf full of stories to offer.

He loves writing and the process. He has a blog about it. He’d make a living at it if he could. But he has willingly put a clamp on his ability to earn money from his work. He does this because helping others is more important to him.

He also started Read a Book, Make a Difference to encourage fellow authors to give back. Each author chooses a charity, whatever pulls at his or her heartstrings, and gives a portion of sales to those who need it. As of this writing, I count 38 authors that are part of RABMAD. That’s 37 additional donations around the world that are larger than they might have been because R.S. Guthrie decided that giving back is important, and inspiring others to give back is almost as important as giving back yourself.

RABMAD isn’t an organization with accountants and receptionists and web designers. It’s one man taking the time to pull it all together. You want to be on the list of authors—he does it. You want a new profile pic—he does it. You need to update the links—he does it. He’s writing new novels. He’s keeping up with his blog. He’s tweeting. And he’s finding time to help others.

Being an inspiration while doing what you love—I can’t think of anything better. Rob Guthrie is an amazing man.

I believe that there will come a day when you’ll hear the name R.S. Guthrie again. Good things happen to good people, and when those people are also dedicated to hard work, they succeed at what they do. So, don’t be surprised if you’re be on the phone with a family member and at that inevitable lull in the conversation when you ask, “So, whatcha reading?” the excited answer comes back that the new Clan MacAulay novel came out last week and it’s the best one yet.

I won’t repeat all his information here, but I urge you to visit the R.S. Guthrie website. I think you’ll be glad you did. I was.

You can find R.S. Guthrie’s website, with links to his first novel and two shorter works, here.
His blog, Rob on Writing, can be found here.
Click here for information about The Joshua School, where Rob is helping pay tuition for Ben F.

After you purchase an R.S. Guthrie book, please consider helping other authors participating in RABMAD here.

And when you’re done reading those, check out my RABMAD books, Good Deeds and The Evolution of Mortality.


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A Kid Goes (Chris) Baty

   Posted by: admin   in Musings

I wrote my first book when I was 10 years old.  Sure, it was only five hand-written pages long, but I added a few illustrations, bound it in poster board, and spent a few hours with my colored pencil set to create the cover art.  As far as I’m concerned, that’s officially a book.  I had writer’s block for a couple years, but in the summer between 7th and 8th grade, I wrote another story.  This one was fifty or so hand-written pages.  I bound it, illustrated it, and also considered it a book—the first in a series, with the second written near the end of the school year.  More writer’s block (or maybe it was that I started to notice girls) but I finally wrote a third book my junior year of high school.

Those stories were all mysteries.  I love reading mysteries but I found that I don’t love writing them, and so I now write horror and dark fantasy.  I wrote about that transition in a previous post.  What I need to talk about here is my process for writing those early books.

Each youthful day I spent writing one of those books, I set a goal for myself of one page per day.  Many days saw two or three pages, but no matter what else was happening, I absolutely refused to stop before at least one page was turned over onto the stack.  I was sometimes a few minutes late to the dinner table, and I missed the beginning of The Dukes of Hazard and The Incredible Hulk once or twice.  These were the sacrifices I had to make if I was to finish my books.

Adolescent and adult life happened.  Girlfriends.  The track team.  College.  Perhaps, a party or three.  Career.  Volunteer work.  More college.  A new career.  And on and on.  I let the writing goals slide.  Then I purchased a book, and those goals were brought back to me by Chris Baty and National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  There’s a lot behind Chris Baty’s plan for pounding out a novel in November, but at the center is a simple truth: if you don’t set goals and a deadline, then it won’t get done.  Writing a novel is no different than weeding the garden or painting the upstairs bedrooms—you need to set aside the time to finish the task.  Nothing against a periodic sit-down in front of the television, but if you’re watching celebrities learn to ballroom dance, you’re not spending that time behind the keyboard, with the trowel, or on a ladder.  (For me, it was attractive police officers catching murderers with questionable science that took up my time.)

What I’d known instinctively in my youth, I’d forgotten as the years passed.  So, with Chris Baty’s blessing, I set aside some time each day and I wrote a novel.  It took me more than that single month, I must admit, but I did finish Good Deeds.  Putting the last word on the page gave me the same excitement I’d found finishing those little mysteries.  I was giddy!  (Of course, I had champagne to give my giddiness a boost this time, but that’s almost as good as Pop Rocks and Mr. Pibb.)

NaNoWriMo has grown over the years and gained quite a following.  It has spawned a script writing sister program and the Young Authors Program to help kids get excited about reading and writing.  Chris Baty has decided that NaNoWriMo can sustain itself now, and he’s stepped down to pursue his own writing career.  It’s sad to see him go (and I’m sure I’m not the first blogger to say so—Google him and you’ll probably find numerous praises).  He’s helped hundreds of thousands realize a life-long dream.  But after spending over a decade inspiring others, he deserves a break and the chance to pursue his own dreams.

The support of my friends and family helps more than they know.  I’m forever in their debt.  But if it wasn’t for Chris Baty reminding me of a simple truth, my first novel might still be a jumble of images only available inside my head.  If you’ve always wanted to write a novel—or need a jumpstart on your next novel—and you want all the details of how to make November incredibly hectic for you and your family, I encourage you to check out NaNoWriMo.  I don’t want to speak for Chris Baty and the NaNoWriMo staff, but I have no doubt that they will welcome you with open arms.

Maybe, like me, you’ll feel like a kid again.

You can find more information about NaNoWriMo at their website.
Seriously, Google Chris Baty. People really love that guy! Here, I’ll help you…

With November looming, I’m about to start working on another NaNoWriMo novel, Hell Bent, but in the meantime, you can check out my first one, Good Deeds.


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How to Spot the Humble

   Posted by: admin   in Musings

A couple years ago I worked with a gentleman named Mike Stroud.  I was immediately impressed by Mike.  He’s one of those people who constantly strives to make his world a better place.  All his worlds—home, play, and work.  He always seems to find the bright side, and I’ve never seen him lose his cool.

Happiness is contagious.  I suspect a lot of people catch it from Mike.  I love that about him but, truth be told, that’s not what impresses me most.

Mike’s oldest son has a condition called Periventricular Leukomalacia (PVL).  He was deprived of oxygen shortly before or after birth and had seizures every 15 minutes in the first days until doctors found the right strength of medication. The lack of oxygen causes brain matter around the brain’s vascular system to die.  Symptoms of PVL include mental and physical impairments. The mental side of PVL is referred to simply as mental impairment. The physical side is Cerebral Palsy, where fine and gross motor skills are affected—including eating. There is also a sensory impact making him sensitive to loud noises, touch, and textures.  As an infant Mike and his wife had to brush their son’s body 3 times a day to de-sensitize him.

He’s fifteen years old now. He is doing things physically that some professionals thought he may not—jumping, for instance. He is doing things academically that they never thought he’d be able to do.  His teachers have noted that while other teenagers with mental impairment have started to plateau, he continues to progress.

He is an inspiration, taking on his challenges with a smile nearly all day every day.  Like his dad, he makes people around him feel happy.  And I’m sure he learned that skill from Mike.  I also believe wholeheartedly that the boy’s achievements are due greatly to the love and support shown by his parents.  But that’s still not what impresses me most about Mike.

Mike Stroud gives his heart to his child like any parent would, and then he gives just a little more to other people’s children too.  Mike is the coach for the area’s Special Olympics team.  It’s no easy task, no matter what he tells you.  Mike provides all the equipment for practices and makes sure the athletes have bottled water to stay hydrated.  He has to acquire a practice location that will be available for eight Saturdays (Special Olympics is not directly affiliated with a school system so availability of a gymnasium and track is not guaranteed, and alternate plans may need to be made with very little notice).  Then there’s sending out flyers to encourage participation, and obtaining coaching certification specific to Special Olympics, and paperwork to monitor practice attendance and activities (regulations state that athletes must practice for a certain number of hours to be eligible for competition), and organizing parents and volunteers to assist during practice, and … probably a number of things he doesn’t talk about (because, remember, Mike just does what he has to with a smile).

At practices, Mike shines.  Literally, he’s beaming the entire time.  The athlete’s love him, and he loves them back.  Amidst the hard work of running, jumping, stretching, and tossing softballs with all their might, there are also cheers and hugs and high-fives and spontaneous leaps of joy.  Mike gives a nudge when they need it and offers encouragement always.  Multiple times, I’ve seen him go down on his haunches next to an athlete who is reluctant to participate in an event, say a few heartening words, and then lead a now grinning and excited boy or girl to the starting line.

Simply put, Mike is a people-person.  He has a lot of love to give.  Impressive, but still not what impresses me most.

I emailed Mike to ask if I could blog about his efforts with his son and with Special Olympics.  He responded:

“You can write about me, but there are many others who give much more to it than me.”

That is what impresses me about Mike.  (Finally, we’ve made it!)  He gives and gives and doesn’t believe he’s really giving that much.  Maybe doesn’t believe he gives enough.  He goes out of his way to provide self-esteem and joy to a group of very special people (and everyone else in his life).  With every right to brag, he stays humble.  I said as much in a reply to his comment above.  Here’s what he came back with:

“Thanks for the compliments.  I’m pretty sure no one else would say I’m humble. I’m far from that.  As for what our athletes get from it, I get even more. True life lessons from them.  Priorities, how to treat others, people before things, content, how to be a good friend, uninhibited, etc.  Too bad I’m a slow learner.”

To that I say, bull-pucky!  Mike has learned those lessons.  And he’s taught them to me.  I hope I learned them as well as he did.

Thanks, Mike!

For more information about Special Olympics and how you can become a Mike, visit their website here.
You can read more about Periventricular Leukomalacia here and here.
Information about Cerebral Palsy can be found here and here.

Check out The Evolution of Mortality or Good Deeds for some other humble people. Although maybe not as honorable as Mike…

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Lessons from a Teenager’s Heart

   Posted by: admin   in Musings

I was invited to write a guest post on Carlyle Labuschagne’s Worlds Away Book Blog.  I shared one of my favorite stories, where my friend Hailey Sanford taught me something about giving back.  Grand Haven High School hosts a chapter of the Interact Club, a youth community service club sponsored by Rotary.  Each May, the GHHS Interact Club partners with the National Relief Network to take a cross-country trip to help with disaster relief.  We go wherever we are needed and often don’t know where that will be until the week before the trip.  In 2010, we were sent to Mississippi where a tornado had recently struck.  My post is about a special incident on that trip.

There’s a point in the story where I doubt Hailey’s dedication and I feel bad for that.  The post doesn’t hit on those feelings much, but it is a big part of the story for me, so I thought I might quickly mention it here.  I won’t give away the ending (you can read the full post via the link below), but suffice to say Hailey reminded me that you can’t always trust your eyes.  If you know in your heart that someone is a good person, then you should give them the benefit of the doubt.  They just might be about to share one of the most memorable and generous experiences of your life.

That’s what Hailey did for me.  I can’t thank her enough for it.

You can read the post at the bottom of this page.
The local news paper, the Choctaw Plaindealer, also wrote an article about our efforts.
Information about National Relief Network can be found on their website.
More about Rotary’s Interact Clubs can be found here.

If you’d like to read a story about other people trying to do the right thing, I invite you to try my novel Good Deeds.

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