Shift in Perspective


When I was a younger man I couldn’t imagine writing in any genre other than horror. Now I think I had to make up boogey-men back then because I hadn’t experienced the real monsters of loneliness, depression, and loss. There’s nothing scarier than the human condition.

Steven E. Wedel

The above is a post I just made on social media. It’s something I’ve been thinking about for a while. This year I finished my second literary novel, revised the first one I wrote, and am 34,868 words into my third novel without werewolves or ghosts or fallen angels. Not even a frisky demon.

I still love horror. I enjoyed returning to the genre and writing Mother last year. I’m sure it won’t be the last one I write. But I hope that even it contained something more than just kids having sex to feed babies to a blog of slime. I hope it carried real human emotion. I’ve always tried for that, but there was definitely a time I was more about the sex and violence and trying to create a clever take on the monster.

I’m not sure where the shift came. Maybe with Amara’s Prayer. It was gradual. I know I surprised myself with the idea of Inheritance because there was no supernatural element at all. That book is more thriller than horror. And then A Light Beyond came and I think it’s the better story and I played with structure and liked telling the story in three distinct pieces.

And then I was writing a Western and erotica and romance and children’s books … Okay, Shim and Shay’s Wish and Songbird both have monsters in them, but they don’t win.

Yeah, that’s another thing. The good guys seldom won in my early work. And they really don’t win now. The literary novel I completed earlier this year, The Lost Pages Bookstore, has the most upbeat ending of anything under my real name with the exception of the children’s and young adult books. Because there are still monsters. Maybe not as hairy, but still there and still scary.

Mother Wants You


Last November I participated in my first National Novel Writing Month. This novel Mother is the result of that. It’s my first horror novel in quite a long time and I’m pretty proud of it.

The idea for this story has been with me for at least 30 years, but I never felt ready to tackle it. The details were always sketchy, though I knew the main idea and stuck to that when I finally set down to write the book.

Mother is about a dozen high schoolers and their teacher who go looking for a missing girl in the Ozark foothills. They find themselves trapped in a cave with a sentient gelatinous blob that possesses the mind of one of the girls. The thing calls itself Mother and insists the humans procreate for her benefit.

Cassie killed Mr. Ackerman … There was so much lbood, and when we tried to help him his intestines were spilling out. It was the grossest thing ever. I saw the light go out in his eyes. I guess that was his soul getting out. Out of his body and out of this cave. Mr. Ackerman might be the lucky one.

From MOTHER

The book is available in paperback from any retailer. In electronic form, it is currently only available for the Kindle and Kindle app. I hope to have an audio version available in the near future.

Remember, like all writers, I could use your honest reviews on Amazon, GoodReads, Barnes & Noble, etc.

For Halloween weekend only, the Kindle ebook edition is available for a free download.

The Cardinal’s Visit


It’s been a week since Mom passed away. It’s been a difficult week. Planning a funeral is hard and attending it is even harder. But there has been one incident that is a positive and has been on my mind for a week now.

Mom passed on Saturday evening. I drove home on Sunday afternoon. When I got home, I went through the house to the back yard where my dogs were. I fed them and was sitting on the porch petting Bear and telling him what happened and why I had been gone so long, when something out of the ordinary happened.

There’s an old rotting stump in my back yard near the patio. It’s about 10 feet tall. As I was sitting there petting my dog, a cardinal flew to the top of the stump and perched there. I knew the belief that a cardinal represented the spirit of someone recently passed. I thought that as I looked at the bird.

As I considered that it was just a coincidence — that I’ve seen cardinals in my yard before, though not this one with mottled plumage — the bird turned itself, cocked its head, and fixed me with one eye. We stared at each other for a minute, then the cardinal flew into some bushes and sang for a few seconds before flying away.

I have not seen a cardinal in my yard, neighborhood, city, or anywhere else since that one flew away.

Was it a message from Mom? A coincidence? A bird looking to steal some dog food? Who can say for sure? But I know what I want to believe.

There would be a great deal of irony in my mom sending me a message through a bird. She let me watch Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds” when I was way too young and I’ve had a phobia since then. I’m sure she got a giggle knowing my first thought was that the cardinal was coming for my eyes.

This is a Google search I did after the cardinal’s visit.

Tribute to Mom


At about 5:45 p.m. on Saturday, September 4, 2021, my mother’s long battle with COPD came to a sad and inevitable end. With it came the end of an era for our family. There will be a tectonic shift in the structure of our world with the passing of our matriarch. Today, as we balance on the edge of what was and what will be, between memories that bring tears and those that bring smiles, I’m looking back at 55 years with the woman who made me what I am.

Beverly Ann (Anderson) Wedel was one of the last of her kind, a housewife. Her career was providing a home for her husband and three kids. There was no clutter in her house. No dust. For years, she had a Kirby vacuum cleaner that was like a Mack truck compared to other vacuums my friends’ mothers had. The 1970s rust-and-brown shag carpet never had a chance to hoard its dirt and grime because the headlight on that vacuum would seek it out and it would be sucked into a bag sturdy enough to be among the gear of any adventurer.

Lunch was at noon, when Dad got his break at the grain elevator, and dinner was at five, when Dad got home from work. The food was incredible. This was a time when there weren’t many fast food places in Enid, Oklahoma, and going to a restaurant was a luxury reserved for very special occasions. Mom cooked, and with the exception of meat loaf, which I think is just unsavable regardless of anyone’s culinary prowess, the food was always excellent. My favorites were the Thanksgiving turkey and pinto beans with ham, fried potatoes, and cornbread. And cake. Or chocolate chip cookies. Nobody makes cookies like my mom did, and it was a hard thing to realize a couple of years ago, as her health declined, that I would never again taste those cookies.

One of the things I have always been most grateful for is my mom’s dedication to my reading when I was very young. I was the firstborn, and so for a couple of years I got to dominate her attention. During that time, she read to me a lot during the days when Dad was at work. The Teddy Bear Twins and A Pickle for a Nickel were a couple of favorites that I still have. Later, when I was in elementary school, she would let me choose books to buy from the Weekly Reader and we would read treasures like Be Nice to Spiders, Sammy the Seal, Danny and the Dinosaur, and so many others. There is no doubt that today I’m an avid reader, an English teacher, and an author because of her influence over 50 years ago.

Speaking of books, Enid didn’t have a bookstore until Oakwood Mall opened in about 1983. But books were always on my Christmas and birthday lists. Mom would go to the office supply store in town and have them special order books for me. Where the Red Fern Grows and the three volumes of The Lord of the Rings are big ones I remember. She took us kids to the library often, too, and, although she always denied it was intentional, it seems an afternoon at the library almost always meant spaghetti for dinner.

She was the first disciplinarian at home. I gave her ample opportunity to work in that role. I was always a roamer and seldom felt burdened by the need to let Mom know where I was going. I often didn’t know, myself. Remember, this is way before cell phones. I remember one time I went to watch some fool jump his bike over a huge drainage ditch between Birch St. and the railroad tracks. The guy kept delaying and delaying, but the gathered crowd waited in misplaced anticipation. When I finally gave up and started for home after dark, I knew things were bad when a neighbor stopped me in their car to say my mom was looking for me. That lots of people were looking for me. When mom came back from her own search for me, she was a volcano of motherly fury. She threw my bicycle into the storm cellar and grounded me for life … or something. I spent a good deal of time standing on our curb after that, watching my friends pass by, unable to leave our yard. Another time, I said something stupid and she gave me her glare. Being in my teens and unable to use my brain correctly, I mocked that look and glared back at her. It was the only time she ever slapped me, and I knew even then I had it coming to me.

My second car was a 1976 Chevy Monte Carlo. It was a good car when I got it in 1983, but again, being a teenage boy, I was always on the lookout for something better. She told me I’d regret selling that car. At the same time, I was very much into heavy metal music and teased her all the time for listening to country. She told me someday I’d appreciate singers like Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson. Listen to your mamas, folks, because they are always right.

The memories … 55 years worth of them. Learning to drive despite Mom always grabbing the steering wheel … Mom having the audacity to come home from the hospital with another baby sister instead of a brother … riding my pedal-powered fire engine around and around a carport while Mom watched … the airplane plants, ferns, tulips, roses, and myriad other houseplants and flowers Mom always loved … the “cowboy shirt” she embroidered for me with cacti, a stagecoach, and western sunset … watching John Wayne movies … Mom bringing the big bowl of popcorn while the family sat and watched All in the Family and The Mary Tyler Moore Show … the times I disappointed her … the times I thought I had gotten something by her but she knew the whole time.

And then the oxygen, the ventilator, nebulizer, hospital stays, and times she couldn’t get enough breath to come to the phone. The last phone call, when she complained that her throat had just started to hurt and she didn’t know why and it turned out it was because her body was shutting down. Sitting beside a hospital bed set up in her living room, holding her hand while her unconscious body struggled to keep breathing, watching my sister put medicine in Mom’s mouth to keep her comfortable until the end. And finally the sight of her lying there, no longer struggling for breath, no longer suffering. Gone from us.

Gone.

My mom, sisters Rachel and Lisa, me, and my dad five or six years ago.

Adventures in Online Dating, Part 3


It’s time to talk about the biggest issue I’ve had in the world of online dating. This is the one that makes me wonder if there’s something wrong with me, or with everyone else. Invariably, women say they want a man who can and will communicate. If you’ve ever received an e-mail or text message from me, you know I’m a little on the wordy side. (Short story markets pay by the word, ya know.) Communicating in writing is my medium. I’m not an introvert there at all.

Without fail, every woman from a dating site with whom I’ve passed messages are either terribly communicators, or they just don’t want to talk to me and are too kind to tell me. The second is totally possible, but seems improbable that not a one would say, “Hey, this isn’t working for me.” Instead, I’ll message, say something about myself, and ask her a question. She responds to the question. That’s it. No follow-up, no elaborating. So I’ll continue the conversation either with that topic or another, always ending with a question. Same thing. Simple response, no follow-up. Eventually, with nothing being asked of me, I’ll let the conversation stop, thinking if a little time goes by, she’ll either ask something or that’ll be the end of it.

It’s always been the end of it. Whether or not we’ve met in person, when I stop pushing the conversation, the deal is done.

If anyone is reading this, I would sincerely like to know what’s up. Am I doing something wrong? Are the women really just too nice to tell me they’ve lost interest? Or do women want a magpie that’ll just blather on about himself endlessly whether she acts engaged in the conversation or not?

Plugging Into the Divine


I have always had a fascination with the sea and the stars. As a child, I remember studying the stars from our backyard on the east side of Enid, Oklahoma, watching them twinkle, trying to decide which were stars and which were planets, looking for the constellations … the things kids do. I didn’t know at the time I was only seeing a tiny fraction of what was there.

I wanted to see the ocean for years, but there are no oceans in Oklahoma. In 1990, my then-wife and I drove to the Oregon coast and there it was, gray and restless and huge, the mighty Pacific Ocean. It was everything I wanted it to be, and so much more. I’ve been back to the Pacific twice since then, once to Oregon and once to California. I will never get enough of watching those waves or the sun sinking like a drop of burning blood into the water, leaving bands of orange and purple and yellow between the horizon and the night sky.

All of last school year, I planned to take my dog Bear and go back to the Pacific this summer, taking our time and stopping wherever we wanted. We would find places, maybe in Wyoming, where we could see the Milky Way and the millions of stars that are hidden from us in the city. We would sit on the cool sand near Florence, Oregon, and contemplate life as foam-topped waves rolled up the beach. Don’t laugh. Bear is the kind of dog that would do that with me. But alas, I lost my job and there was a month of panic as I searched for another one, and then the realization that I would not get a paycheck from June 15 until September 20. Vacation was cancelled.

Depression set in. That’s a dragon I fight often. I don’t have many friends, but the few I have get to hear me whining and complaining, so they knew about my financial jam and cancelled plans. Today I got to sit and talk to Annie while she worked, and, because she is who she is and she knows how to ask questions that find the pearl in a pile of bull excrement, she asked me why I’m drawn to the water and the stars. I gave her some vague answer, but her question stuck with me as I drove home and, once here, I was able to give her a better answer.

I’m drawn to these things because I let my personal problems overwhelm me too often. Not having money, not getting to go on my trip, being lonely, feeling old, overworked, sad my books aren’t selling, etc., all weigh me down and became like a black hole sucking away my happiness. The ocean or a sky filled with glittering stars is so big, so eternal, so powerful that it reminds me how small I am and how miniscule my life, and therefore my problems, really are. As Annie put it in defining her own feelings, “[T]he sky and the ocean both plug me back into the Divine.”

I’m not a religious person, but I absolutely believe in a Divine presence, and I think it manifests in many forms and is understood in many different ways and by different names. And I fully believe that there are times in a person’s life when it is necessary to get plugged into that Divine nature. For me, the best place for my soul to connect to the Divine is where the land meets the sea under a canopy of stars. Hopefully I’ll get back to that church soon. In the meantime, you can often find me on the banks of local lakes.

Stopped Watches


With the start of school and the return of the necessity of wearing long pants, I wanted to strap on a wristwatch again. But alas, all three of my wristwatches have dead batteries, as do both of my pocket watches. This made me think back into the last century when I got my first adult watch*.

Back in those days, watches had to be wound every morning. I wanted a watch for a long time and finally got a silver one. I think it was a birthday gift. I know I was in elementary school and from the snippet of memory I have of showing the watch to someone on a certain section of the playground at Coolidge Elementary School, I must have been in about the second grade. I wanted a watch like my dad’s, and this one was pretty similar. I was really proud of it and, being a creature of habit, I didn’t have any problem remembering to wind it up every morning when I put it on.

I wore that watch for several years, until moisture got inside it and damaged the crystal and I could no longer read the face. I’m shocked I don’t seem to have it in my possession anymore, as that is exactly the kind of thing I would typically keep no matter how useless it is now. With all the moves and things lost in the divorce, I guess maybe it isn’t so surprising.

My point to this post is about how we’ve traded reliability for convenience. That watch worked for years and I never had to spend a penny on it. The watches I have now? For just a little more than the cost of the battery one needs, I could buy a whole new watch. Two of them were gifts and are a little more expensive than your typical Wal-Mart watch, but the fact remains they are useless without a new battery every year or two. All because we, as a society, became too lazy to wind our watches in the morning.

How much damage are we doing to the earth to create hundreds of thousands of those little lithium batteries? And what happens to them when we toss them in the trash?

And why have wristwatches gone out of style? Yeah, yeah, because of the cell phone, and because so many people can’t read an analogue clock, anyway.

I guess this is a post about an old guy longing for the good ol’ days when he had to wind his watch before walking uphill to school, barefoot in the snow.

*My first watch was a TeeterTotter Watch. I remember it was blue and instead of a second hand it had a boy and a girl on a teetertotter rocking back and forth. It was obviously a kid’s watch. I don’t know what happened to it, either, but I suspect I finally threw it away because years after I quit wearing it the thing would randomly start ticking from the depths of my dresser’s junk drawer. Of course, it’s probably worth a fortune now …

Adventures in Online Dating, Part 2


It’s been a little over a year that I’ve been on dating sites. If I had a nickel for every time a lady describes herself as “sassy” or “strong” or “independent” or “fluent in sarcasm” I would have enough money that supermodels would be throwing themselves at me.

Don’t get me wrong. From what I understand, guys partake in the clich├ęs, too, usually posting old photos or photos in hats and sunglasses and featuring the corpse of some animal or fish. This is just what women have told me. They haven’t told me what things the guys say about themselves.

But anyway, these strong, sassy, independent, sarcastic women typically love anything outside, from fishing to hiking to skydiving. They’re not a one-night stand, serial dater, or friends with benefits. Where would they like to meet? Typically the answer is something like, “Anywhere we can talk and the laughter will flow. It isn’t about the place, but the person I’m with.”

Which brings me to laughter. They all want someone who’ll make them laugh. Okay. I get that. Everyone likes to laugh. It shows that you’re comfortable and having a good time. But really, it’s like they’re wanting 21-year-old Eddie Murphy to show up on this first date. I don’t know about most guys, but on a first date, I’ll be nervous and trying to impress and usually not up for making good jokes because I don’t know what she’s going to find funny. Believe it or not, some people don’t appreciate jokes about necrophilia or hobos eating warm vomit. I know, right?

So, the message here seems to be that they don’t really need a man because they are strong and independent, but if they decide to, I dunno, answer your message or actually go on a date, you better be prepared for their sassy sarcasm in a place where it’s easy to hear it, and if you don’t make them laugh on the first date, you’re benched and an MLB pitcher with a noodle for an arm. That’s no pressure.

What do y’all think? Am I wrong? Do I just suck at this online dating game? Do you have any advice?

Adventures in Online Dating, Part 1


I’m an introvert by nature. I don’t have many friends, and I don’t get out much. It isn’t that I don’t want friends or don’t want to get out and do things. I do. I get bored and lonely at home. My dogs are only so much company. I used to have friends, back in school. No, not college … kindergarten through 12th grade. Maybe being married was a barrier to making close friends. I don’t know. My point is, I don’t get out much.

I’ve been divorced for almost three years now, and was separated for a year before that. My ex-wife has been in another relationship for about two years. So, about a year ago I decided I should try to find a partner. Since I don’t go anywhere or do anything, my options were pretty much limited to the online world.

Sheesh! There are a lot of dating sites out there.

Because I can’t just pimp my books 24/7, I thought I would bring you a series of my adventures in online dating. Hopefully it’ll be funny and maybe enlightening. In this first installment, I’m going to talk about the sites I’ve been on and my experience with the platform; I’ll get into experiences with the ladies next time.

OKCupid was my first site. I still like this one, although I’ve currently deactivated my account and deleted the app. There is an endless supply of questions to answer and when you click on a potential match you get her bio and stats and can see her answers to questions. Sometimes I would have hundreds of matching answers with a lady. You get a lot of accessibility with the free account at OKCupid, but I got caught in two scams where the other party led me on for a bit, then asked for money. I didn’t give them any money. And no, that isn’t why I deleted the app … I did that when it tried to match me with a former supervisor.

Zoosk was next, I think. I like the format of this one, though I have to wonder how many of the women are really just bots. One photo and no “story” to talk about who they are and what they like makes me suspicious. My account was hacked on this site and sent out viruses to hundreds of people so it had to be closed. I just recently made a new one and this is the only site I’m currently paying for. It’s also the site where I have never gotten a response from a woman I message first. You have to pay for Zoosk to have any real experience with it; it is one of the less expensive sites.

Plenty of Fish is another one where you can do quite a bit without having to pay anything. A female friend of mine says this has been her best experience. I didn’t have much luck with it. My account is currently deactivated, but I might start it up again. I did go on one date with a woman I met here. For some reason, PoF kept matching me with women in the Casper, Wyoming, area despite me living in the Oklahoma City metro.

Match.com is where I’ve invested the most money. This one is awful if you try to use it for free. You can see pictures and read bios, and it’ll tell you when someone likes you, but you’re not going to get to see that person or read any messages they send until you make with the payment. I subscribed to this one for two 6-month increments, with the last one expiring a couple of weeks ago. I’m still single, though I had a few dates from this site.

Hinge is a decent one. I’ve not paid anything here, but you can see pictures and read what the other party says about themselves in answer to some questions. You can message, but you only get to see one conversation and one like at a time with the free version. They say Hinge is the app designed to be deleted, but they still want you to commit for three months at $59.99.

eharmony says someone falls in love on their site every 14 minutes … but they want you to commit to a one-year subscription, anyway. You can’t see pictures for free. You can read about the women and see how you match up with them using eharmony’s complex algorithms, but you can’t read messages. They gave me a free 3-day trial and it was okay, but not enough to make me want to subscribe.

Facebook has a dating feature and I’ve turned it on a couple of times but, well … it was scary.

GrindR just wasn’t my cup of tea. haha Okay, my students last year suggested this one, hoping I wouldn’t know what it was, but I did and have never been on it.

I think that’s all of them. Tune in next time and I’ll talk about some of the people I’ve met and messaged (all names and identifying details will be changed or omitted, of course).

2020 Books in Review


So, I lowered my standards in 2020 and set my Goodreads reading goal at 45 instead of 50. I read 46 books, though one isn’t listed on Goodreads and therefore my list only shows 45. Eh. Whatevs. As usual, this list won’t include rereads, like The Grapes of Wrath or The Chronicles of Narnia (by the way, I read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe three times). So, without further ado, here are the highlights and disappointments of my 2020 reading list.

Blue Highways by William Least Heat-Moon was one of my favorites. I’ll admit to being a sucker for a good travelogue, and this may well be the best one I’ve read. With his relationship in ruins and his job in question, the author sets off to explore the blue highways on the U.S. roadmap. He meets some extraordinary people along the way and learns a lot about himself. His philosophizing is never egregious despite multiple opportunities where he could have ranted. Yes, I would rate this about Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

Jaws by Peter Benchley was probably the biggest disappointment of the year. After years of watching the movie, I expected greatness, but this is one of those rare instances where the movie is better than the book. The characters — all of them — are immensely unlikeable, and there’s a subplot with the mafia and the ending is pretty anticlimactic despite a nice allusion to Moby-Dick.

Black Gun, Silver Star by Art T. Burton was another disappointment. My love of Western fiction continued, but I wanted to mix in some real Old West reading, so I looked up this book about Bass Reeves, the most badass marshal in Oklahoma history. Taking nothing away from Marshal Reeves, the book mostly avoided the mythos of the man and focused on documented court cases and newspaper clippings. There were a lot of facts, but I didn’t learn much truth about the man.

One newer author I can’t get enough of is Phaedra Patrick. I read The Secrets of Love Story Bridge the week it was released and loved it, as I did her previous books. I’m sure my love of Patrick’s books have a lot to do with where I am in my own life, but her characters are very real, her plots compelling, and the endings are happy, even if sometimes bittersweet. This was a good, happy, feel-good story.

I had avoided Rick Bragg since my college days because a professor I came to hate was such a fan of All Over but the Shoutin’, which I loved. But when Audible offered his The Most They Ever Had for free, I snagged it and loved it. Bragg’s story about a textile mill in the south and the people who relied on it despite the fact it was killing them was fascinating (and the narrator was excellent).

The Most They Ever Had made me look at Bragg’s over titles and I was surprised to see he’d written a biography of the best boogie woogie piano player ever, so I dove into Jerry Lee Lewis: His Own Story. I loved it. It was one of my 2020 favorites, but you have to keep in mind this is Jerry Lee’s story. Bragg doesn’t go out looking for corroborating or contrary evidence. He tells the story the way Jerry Lee told it to him and pretty much the only contradictions are Bragg’s own description of the things he sees during the long process of collecting the story. If you’re interested in the roots of rock, this is a must-read.

Springfield Confidential by Mike Reiss was a huge disappointment. This book is mainly about the creation of The Simpsons TV show. I guess Reiss is better at writing jokes for cartoon characters. I could see his punchlines coming and they just weren’t funny. There were a few interesting stories about certain episodes and guest stars, but overall, I just wasn’t impressed. But hey, he’s a millionaire and I’m not, so …

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes and Other Stories from the Crematorium by Caitlin Doughty was one of the more unusual reads for me. I remember after the first chapter thinking it wasn’t what I expected, but I can’t remember now what I did expect. It turned out to be a really interesting book that made me think a lot about how we treat death in Western culture.

There were a lot of Western novels by Louis L’Amour, Max Brand, and others. Some were good, but most were just what they were … escapism fiction. There’s nothing wrong with that. None of them really stood out and as I flip from this screen to Goodreads, I can barely remember which plot went with which title.

The Blind Men and the Elephant by John Godfrey Saxe is something I should have read years ago. I knew the story, but from summaries I picked up elsewhere. This is a children’s book, written in verse and featuring pictures, but the concept is for anyone of any age who has an open mind. The theme of the book has been a cornerstone of my beliefs for a long time.

The last book I’ll go into here is Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell. I would not normally go for a book by a modern preacher, but this was sent to me by a friend after we had a discussion of my upbringing and what I was told about Hell. She marked the pages she thought most relevant to that discussion, but I read the whole book and my biggest takeaway was not the part about how Gehenna was the burning garbage dump of Jerusalem, but that you take truth where you find it, and often that isn’t in a book of sacred text. The author found truth in one of those gaudy paintings of Elvis done on black velvet, among other places. This is something I have always believed but never articulated. The truth is out there, in our novels, our music, in the stillness of snow, the sunrise over the forest, the laughter of babies, and the tears at a funeral. We just have to know it when we see it.

I’ve set my goal back to 50 books for 2021. Let’s read!