Monday, July 23, 2012

The Story Behind the Story: Grandma

Not far from where I live, there’s a fire station.  Next to it there’s a couple small houses and then a small strip mall with a Subway, a barber and a fitness center.  A rather pleasant slice of middle America.
One day I was driving by and caught sight of an elderly woman sitting outside her brown brick house next to the fire station.  She was seated on a bright teal metal chair, watching the world go by.  I wondered what she was thinking.  I wondered what was on her mind as she watched the world zoom on by.
I thought I might write a story about her.  I first imagined her as something of a mentor to a younger person, with her hard-earned wisdom informing the outcome of the story.  I set the idea aside for a few days and let it grow.  I soon came up with the story of a young couple in a burgeoning romance.  They would frequently visit the woman’s Grandmother, who would readily provide warm apple pie, ice cream and gentle advice.
I started writing and realized about halfway through that I didn’t have an ending.  I had some idea the course the relationship might take, but I somehow knew that wasn’t the compelling ending I needed.  I generally like to at least have an ending in mind but I forged ahead anyway.  I got to what I knew would be the final scene and let my instincts take over.  I more or less stumbled into what was one of my better endings.  Those who have read the story know what I mean (no, I’m not giving it away here).  In any case, I’d like to think that the real-life Grandma would enjoy her story.

“Grandma” is one of the fourteen stories that I’ve included in my new book, “Advent: A Short Story Collection”, now available on

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick peek “behind the scenes”.  You’ll see more “Story Behind the Story” blog posts very soon.

Friday, July 20, 2012


I’ve been waiting to see “The Dark Knight Rises” since... well, since I saw “The Dark Knight” back in 2008.  The Batman has long been my favorite superhero.  “Batman Begins” has been one of my favorite films since its debut in 2005.  Here’s a character that used the unimaginable pain of losing his parents and turned it into something heroic.  He honed himself mentally and physically until he became The Batman.
When the title for Christopher Nolan’s third and final Batman film was announced, I smiled.  “The Dark Knight Rises”.  Perfect.  The Batman rises from the ashes and once again saves Gotham.  I kept track of the film as it progressed... casting announcements, production stories, trailers, you name it.
The day of the premiere drew closer and anticipation built.  Reviews came trickling, then flooding in, from all corners of the internet.  Despite a few naysayers (mostly those who felt “The Dark Knight” was still a bit better)  the consensus was that “The Dark Knight Rises” was a spectacular, stirring and emotional climax to Nolan’s trilogy.
My good friend (and fitness trainer extraordinaire), William Appelquist, informed me that he was going to a marathon of all three films; leading up to, of course, the midnight premiere of “The Dark Knight Rises”.  Yes, I seethed with jealousy, but the vagaries of fatherhood and authorhood conspired to keep me away.  Oh well.  I have the first two on DVD anyway.
I got up this morning to be greeted with a horrific story out of Aurora, Colorado.  A lone gunman, armed and armored, opened fire during a midnight screening of “The Dark Knight Rises”.  The death toll as I type this stands at 12, with 38 injured.  The alleged gunman, James Holmes, entered the theater about 30 minutes into the movie and opened fire.
A couple dear friends of mine live in Colorado and posted updates about the shooting throughout the morning.  One was a picture of James Holmes... young, smiling, clean cut... not the sullen, crazed loner I had expected.  This was the face of the boy next door.  Chilling.
The story that so far has affected me the most was that of Jessica Redfield. She narrowly missed being a victim in Toronto mall shooting just weeks ago.  She wrote eloquently of this experience on her blog...
"I was shown how fragile life was on Saturday. I saw the terror on bystanders’ faces. I saw the victims of a senseless crime. I saw lives change. I was reminded that we don’t know when or where our time on Earth will end. When or where we will breathe our last breath. For one man, it was in the middle of a busy food court on a Saturday evening.
I say all the time that every moment we have to live our life is a blessing. So often I have found myself taking it for granted. Every hug from a family member. Every laugh we share with friends. Even the times of solitude are all blessings. Every second of every day is a gift. After Saturday evening, I know I truly understand how blessed I am for each second I am given."
Jessica was one of those who died in the shooting last night.

So we mourn.  We get angry that someone would end the lives of so many in such a cruel fashion.  We’ll talk about this senseless tragedy for the next few days, shake our collective fist at this psychopath with his guns, smoke bombs and body armor.  Then what?  We’ll move on.  We’ll watch the recap a year from today, bow our heads and once again go back to our lives.  
Those lives will still be lost.  The gifts those people could have given the world, wiped out in a hail of gunfire.  Sounds like the bad guy won, doesn’t it?
Not if you and I have anything to say about it.
Let’s do this over the next few days... Live your life 100%, full-throttle.  Do it for Jessica, who was just at the start of her dream career.  Do it for all those people who were killed, all of whom I’m sure harbored dreams that will never be realized.
A few suggestions, if I may...
Chase that dream.  With a vengeance.
Hug your kids.
Stand up for yourself.
Workout like a warrior.
Fix that relationship that needs fixing.
Write that book.
Apply for that job.
Walk away from the people that bring you down.
Sign up for that class.
Don’t give up.

The Batman rose from one of the worst personal tragedies imaginable and made himself a better man from it... a hero, in fact.  We can also get something out of this tragedy.  We can, in our own small ways, ensure that the bad guy doesn’t win this time.
We can be heroes.
We can RISE.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Story Behind the Story: Emil

The Midwest Writing Center is based in Davenport, Iowa... a mere stone’s throw from where I live.  I mean that almost literally.  I can look out my back door and see the Bucktown Center for the Arts, where they are headquartered.

I’ve done some volunteer work for them over the years, participated in the occasional reading and my son was even lucky enough to attend their conference this past June.  My favorite event of theirs is the annual Iron Pen contest.  Everyone who signs up gets a writing prompt at the given time (generally 5pm on a Friday) with the goal to submit a completed short story, poem or non-fiction piece within twenty-four hours.  It’s a good challenge and a great way to get the creative juices flowing.  Better yet... this year my son Peter entered too, in the youth division.
The appointed time came and our prompt arrived.  It was the same for both of us... “A bridge will be written”.  Okay, then.  I didn’t know if this was a random slop of words or some obscure literary reference.  I did know that I had no clue what I would do with this prompt.
Peter, for his part, started right in on a fantasy story.  I sat and thought, letting the phrase tumble around my mind.
“A bridge will be written”
Should write about an architect, struggling with designing a new bridge?  What sort of metaphor might work?  I thought that bridges weren’t just over a river or a highway.  Bridges were... oh yeah, music.  That might work.  I did a little research and found the following definition...
A unique passage that comes between and connects two distinct sections of a song; a musical “segue.” A bridge will often build anticipation for an upcoming chorus.
So a musical bridge was the way to go.  I knew I would want to reference the musical bridge explicitly as well as incorporate a bridge as a metaphor in some way.  
It was finally time to use the most powerful weapon in my writer’s arsenal... thinking.  Generally what I do when I come up with a promising idea is to let it gestate for a little bit.  I might come up with an overarching idea, perhaps a few scenes or characters and then let my brain help me fill in some of the blanks.
The story’s opening scene came to me fairly quickly, along with a good sense of the main characters.  I started writing in earnest...  I wasn’t 100% certain where I was going, but given the contest’s deadline, I needed to get going.  Fortunately the first scene pretty easily led to the second, the second to the third... it was akin to knocking down a line of dominoes.
Peter and I both got our stories submitted before the deadline.  We found out just days later that we won awards in our respective age groups and were invited to an awards ceremony/ reading that was to take place on his birthday.  Fantastic.

“Emil” is one of the fourteen stories that I’ve included in my new book, “Advent: A Short Story Collection”, now available on  

Should you want to learn more about The Midwest Writing Center, click here...

I hope you’ve enjoyed this quick peek “behind the scenes”.  You’ll see more “Story Behind the Story” blog posts very soon.

Monday, July 9, 2012

The Zombie Apocalypse Is Upon Us. Sort of.

"A true Zombie is nothing more than an unconscious being apathetically and lifelessly lumbering across the planet buying and consuming everything in it's path, unsatisfied, unfulfilled, anxious and unstill." -Judith Froemming

There was a story all over the news a few weeks ago... it was about a man in Miami who was caught eating someone’s face off.  The story went viral and was all over social media, and many of the comments suggested that this was the onset of the “zombie apocalypse”.  Maybe not so much.  It turns out that the alleged “zombie” was high on a synthetic drug colloquially known as “bath salts”.
So no, the world will not soon resemble an episode of “The Walking Dead”.  Having said that, I do think there is a zombie apocalypse of sorts that has come upon us.  No, I don’t think a slow-moving rotting corpse is going to bust your door down and attempt to eat your brain.  Something else is at hand, and it’s not pretty.


Zombies are a part of the horror zeitgeist because... well, because they’re dead.   They’re mindless creatures, rotting from the inside out, their only goal to sate their unceasing hunger.  The zombies of cinema and literature are nothing more than barely animated corpses.  They seem alive but really, they’re not.
Sounds like some people I know.
Try this... get on Facebook sometime and scroll through your friend’s statuses.  How many people complain endlessly about their “hardships”, yet doing nothing about it?  Who do you know that structures their life around the “Jersey Shore” season premiere?  Why in the world would someone complain that they can’t lose weight but they never get off their couch to exercise (yet they somehow manage to make it to McDonald’s for lunch on a daily basis)?
Do you see where I’m going with this?
I know a lot of people, people with enormous potential, who walk mindlessly through life.  They don’t really live, they just exist, nothing more.  They work whatever job they managed to stumble into.  They go home and focus their attention on some vacuous TV show about tanned goofballs or perhaps drink until they’ve dulled the ache of regret.  They move from relationship to relationship, for the mere sake of being with someone... anyone.  They blame everyone but themselves for the state of their life, their health and their career.  They complain but never do anything about it.  In short, these are people who are not really living life... for all practical purposes, they may as well be zombies.
You might think I’m being a bit harsh... okay, maybe I am; but I got your attention, didn’t I?  Also, I’m the first one to admit that I’ve been there too.  I used to let life happen to me.  I used to let people tell me who I was.  I used to blame everyone and everything but me for what I didn’t like in my life.
A key phrase in that previous paragraph is used to.  I managed to change.  That’s proof that anyone can.


A big part of truly living life is being mindful of what you’re doing.  We all need to relax and blow off steam, but there are certainly better alternatives than to watch (and endlessly discuss) the antics of a bunch of morons whose only goals in life are to get drunk, have sex and argue with one another.  Why not take that time and devote it instead to something useful?  Exercise, read a good book, update your resume, etc. etc.
There are those who seemingly take great joy in endlessly complaining about their lot in life.  We’re all entitled to a bad day here and there, but as the 80’s band Devo famously said, “when a problem comes along, you must whip it”.   Hate your job?  Start looking for another one.  Significant other treating you poorly?  Try to work it out or get out.  Don’t like what the scale says?  Change your diet.  Exercise.
In short... take action.  Don’t just shuffle along, hoping you’ll stumble into something better.  Go after it.  Go get it.  Make it happen, don’t just let it happen.  
Don’t be a zombie.  Be fully alive.

"So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even when they're busy doing things they think are important. This is because they're chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning."
— Mitch Albom