Living Alone

Living alone is waking up in the morning in the middle of the bed because there is no one to bump into during the restless night. It’s breakfast for one. One plate, one cup, one fork, one knife in the sink. It’s nobody asking about your plans for the day or complaining about how long you’re in the bathroom. It’s leaving for work unkissed, knowing there will be no hug to welcome you home when the day is over.

Living alone is facing the work day knowing that there is no one who’ll care to hear about your successes or failures, about office gossip, or the hope of a raise or the fear of unemployment. It’s going to lunch and seeing couples coming together to share a sandwich while holding hands, hugging and pecking lips before parting to return to their separate careers secure in the knowledge they will share their stories over the next meal. It’s earning money but having no one who will light up at the unexpected gift you never buy.

Living alone is telling the restaurant hostess you need a table for one and seeing her try to hide the flicker of contempt or pity in her eyes before she seats you. It’s taking a book to the table so you don’t see the other diners who are maybe looking at you and thanking God for the person across the table from them. It’s looking at the book so you don’t see or hear the couples and friends and families making moments all around you. It’s eating quickly, thinking you should have just gone home and eaten the frozen dinner like you’d originally planned. It’s over tipping because the waitress’s smile seemed genuine and it’s the only one given to you all day.

Living alone is sitting in your living room as night fills the rooms of your house while the silence grows heavier and heavier until the dark and the quiet press you into the sofa with the weight of the ocean over the ruins of the Titanic. It’s lethargy and moaning desperate loneliness. It’s going to the bathroom with your cell phone in your hand in hopes that somebody somewhere will use one of the many apps you’ve downloaded to send you a text, an e-mail, a video, or a meme they thought was funny. It’s posting veiled cries for help on social media and seeing people respond with laughing emojis because no one knows you are actually in pain.

Living alone is watching action movies or horror movies or anything that is not about romance or happy people because seeing Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan falling in love isn’t escapism when every frame of film reminds you of what you do not have. It’s buying the small bags of microwave popcorn and explaining to a pair of napping dogs why the movie is good or bad. It’s avoiding movies you’ve seen with people who are no longer in your life because certain scenes will make you cry no matter how much you try to prepare for them. It’s knowing that when the film ends it will be time to face the empty bed again.

Living alone is laying in the dark, unable to sleep, thinking of all the things in your past that have led you to this moment, in this room, between these sheets with no one to talk to, no one to hold, no human scent to comfort you, no body to keep you warm, no soft snoring to let you know another person feels safe in your company. It’s wondering if the people you still love are thinking of you now or ever. It’s knowing that if you die in the night no one will care until the neighbors smell the decay of the empty husk you walked around in for so long before it finally stopped moving.

Living alone is for monsters in caves, trolls under bridges, husbands who cheat, and fathers who are absent. Living alone is for villains. Bad guys. The unloved and unwanted.

I live alone.

Call to the Hunt

I find it weird but nice that the audiobook of Call to the Hunt continues to be my bestselling title, even over the books that come from major publishers. Granted, Dear Bully and After Obsession have both been out for several years, but we’ll overlook that. haha

A couple of months ago, for reasons unknown to me, sales of the audio of Call to the Hunt spiked and it has remained my bestselling title in any format since then. When the spike first happened it was much higher on that chart than its current location. I wish I knew why. Sales have not bled over to the longer works in The Werewolf Saga, which I find kind of odd. But I’ll take it.

Back in the Saddle … for real this time

My blog has been so neglected the past two or three years. I think I’ve made one post each the last two years, both claiming that I was over a hump and ready to get back to writing. And then I didn’t. Couldn’t.

But this time I think I’m really back. In the past month I have finished a manuscript I started well over three years ago. I republished a novel for which the rights were returned to me last year. I edited that manuscript I finished, and today I finished the covers and uploaded two books to be released as paperbacks and Kindle e-books in the next week. I have another cover and manuscript nearly complete; I just need to do the back cover and fix one scene in the manuscript.

Carrie and I have talked about releasing an independently published sequel to In the Woods. I’m excited about that.

In addition to all that, You Want to Do What? Lessons I Learned as a Teacher has been finished as an audiobook and we’re just waiting for ACX to approve it. That werewolf historical romance under a pseudonym — the book I got the rights back to — has the interest of a narrator/producer for an audio version, so I think that’ll happen soon.

It’s been a busy couple of months for me and MoonHowler Press.

Of the books discussed above, only one of them will have my name on it. The others are either non-genre or outside my usual genres to the point I felt it was appropriate to use a different name.

I think I also have my first job as a freelance copy editor. I’m a little nervous about that, but also excited. I’ve been wanting to do contract writing and editing as a side gig for a while, with the hope of making it a full-time job. Yes, and get out of teaching. I love teaching, but the income is limited and there are often too many chiefs who see kids as test scores and dollar signs. But that’s way on down the line.

Right now, it just feels good to be back to writing/editing/publishing. I look forward to getting back to the novel I was writing before I sank into that pit of depression.

Success! You’re on the list.

Who am I?

Almost everything I know has changed since separating and then being divorced. One of the biggest issues I’ve been dealing with is depression, and that — and some of its causes — has led me to the belief that I no longer know who I am.

The depression has roots and symptoms that I’m not ready to talk about publicly, and those don’t really apply to this discussion about my loss of identity. So, for now, these are the issues on the table …

In December of last year I walked away from teaching high school. It wasn’t wholly my choice, and I didn’t mean for it to be an end to that aspect of my life. I’d changed jobs and had only been at this particular school since August. The principal and I argued a lot over the grades of students who simply refused to do any work. She wanted me to pass them, and I refused. She decided to get rid of me using bad evaluations, threats, and finally manipulating my students to speak against me. We came to the agreement I would resign. I overestimated the December job market for English teachers. In other words, I couldn’t find a job.

I finished the year teaching kindergarten for a charter school where I thought I’d been hired to teach at their new high school this fall, only to find out that no, they’re keeping me in the elementary school. I renewed my job search, applying all over the metro to every school district with an English opening, but I only got one callback, and that junior high decided on a different candidate after I did a pair of interviews.

This fall I will be teaching a blended 5th/6th grade class.

It was hard not teaching my usual AP Literature curriculum this past school year. I struggled at the high school I was at because the kids were accustomed to not having to work, so they didn’t. Then I went to kindergarten where, instead of teaching the symbolism of great novels I was trying to teach energetic, unfocused 5 year olds the sounds of letters, the name and value of coins, and how to write numbers to 100.

My identity as a teacher is, if not gone, reshaped into something that doesn’t fit me.

Then came the rejection letter for a young adult novel called Afterlife. I wrote this novel years ago and a certain editor I’m already working with promised to look at it when another book was in the editing stages. Literally, it took years before she agreed to look at it, and then she rejected it. My ego, grown fragile through the divorce and the job situation and horrible sales of my self-published books, just couldn’t take that blow.

I haven’t written since December when I separated from that high school. I can’t call it writer’s block. I don’t even sit down to try. I have an office in my new house, but I seldom bother to enter it. I simply don’t have the motivation. With that rejection letter, I was ready to give up. I just didn’t want to do it anymore. Who would care? Based on the poor sales and scant reviews, hardly anybody.

A former student messaged me last week. We’d talked about writing a book together. I’m ashamed to say I kind of unloaded on her, giving her a dose of my negativity that I suspect she never even knew I was capable of. At least, I hope I never showed my students just how dark I could be. It didn’t faze her. By the end of our conversation we’d worked out the basics of a plot and agreed to try the project.

Then I talked to someone else very close to me and told her I was thinking about quitting and why. She told me exactly what I knew she would. “Why does it have to be about the money?” she demanded. “Why can’t you just do it because you love it? I love to sing and dance, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop singing and dancing because nobody’s paying me to do it.”

Today the mother-in-law of that first student messaged me; she’s a former co-worker of mine, too. She’s also been looking for teaching jobs and sharing the listings she finds with me. I told her today I’m staying where I am. She suggested I sell my lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers, and … once again I let the depression out of the bag and explained nobody would buy my lesson plans because I barely plan lessons. I come to class with topics to discuss and if the students haven’t read, I’m wrecked because I suddenly have nothing. Then she started talking about my book about teaching, You Want to Do What? and how she loved it. I don’t know. It was nice to hear her praise and encouragement. The book hasn’t sold well despite a decent first week and my most aggressive marketing campaign.

So, who am I? I don’t know. Not a high school English teacher, and that alone is hard to get my head around. Can I be effective at the elementary level? I don’t know. Am I going to be the best-selling author I’ve dreamed of becoming since the mid-1980s? No, I don’t think that’s going to happen. Can I accept the fact I’m likely going to have to self-publish pretty much everything I write for what seems to be a dwindling fan base and keep writing anyway? On that, we’ll have to wait and see, but I do feel a little of the old spark. I’m re-reading my most recent incomplete manuscript and a couple of shorter things under one of my pseudonyms, so we’ll see.

The fact I wrote this post, only my second this year, is a good start, I think.

Books of 2018

I once again failed to meet my goal of reading 50 books last year. I managed 44 books with a total of 11,604 pages, which is actually more pages than 2017 when I read 47 books. But it’s still a failure. Oh well. It’s a new year.

Here are the highs and lows of 2018’s reading list, starting with the bad. I didn’t bother to finish anything so bad I only gave it one star, but I had a few 2-star reviews. A Thousand Pardons by Jonathan Dee leads that list because I just didn’t care about any of the characters. Then there was Larry McMurtry’s Leaving Cheyenne, which just droned on and on and changed points of view three times as the central character become more and more unlikable. Richard Bach’s One was a major disappointment despite hitting one of my favorite themes. The story just wasn’t believable and, honestly, Bach came off as a self-absorbed snob.

I gave three books 3-star reviews, the most recent of those being Robert Bloch’s Psycho. It might have been different if I’d never seen Hitchcock’s movie, but since the movie followed the book pretty much exactly, the book was kind of boring. The other two were Louis L’Amour westerns, The Quick and the Dead and Rivers West. They were decent, in a Saturday matinee kind of way, but not spectacular.

Seventeen books got 4-star reviews; to be fair, some were rereads and I’m going to mention them here. The best of the lot here was Steffen Piper’s Greyhound, which had a few flaws, but gave me one helluva book hangover and is part of the reason I didn’t hit my goal of 50 books. I simply didn’t want to read anything else after this story. Also on this list are two by Phaedra Patrick, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper and Rise and Shine Benedict Stone. I really liked both of these, with Arthur Pepper being just a little better than Benedict Stone. But I’ll be looking for Patrick’s next book. Naomi Alderman’s The Liar’s Gospel was an interesting read, looking at the life of Jesus from various unrecorded viewpoints. I also read John Steinbeck’s The Wayward Bus for the first time and rated it here; it’s no The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden, but it was pretty good. There were some westerns and others, but these are the highlights.

There were fourteen 5-star reviews and, well, eleven of those are rereads. So let’s look at those other three. I may have a new favorite living author in Nina George. I loved loved loved The Little Paris Bookshop and couldn’t wait to read The Little French Bistro. Both were excellent, though I’d give the Bookshop the upper hand. Her use of language, even translated into English, is masterful and her characters are very real. If you haven’t read her, you should. And finally, there was one of the best biographies I have ever read in Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash: The Life. I came away feeling as if Cash was a close personal friend. The depth of this book is just amazing, covering The Man in Black’s life from beginning to end, not pulling any punches. If you think you know Cash from the movie Walk the Line, you are so wrong. There’s a lot more, as he was a very, very complex man.

That’s it. Happy reading in 2019!

Getting back on track

Here it is December and I’ve only made one blog post all year. It’s been an eventful year in my personal life. I’m not going to go into details here because, honestly, most of it is personal and nobody else’s business. But for the couple of you who may care …

After 32 years of marriage, my wife and I separated last year. The divorce became final this past October. I moved into an apartment following the separation and lived there for a year. About a month ago I started the process of buying a house and actually closed and began moving in about a week ago. I stayed in the OKC metro to be close to my kids. Kim and I are getting along and have vowed to remain friends despite the divorce. She helped me move. It’s been hard living alone and coming to terms with the fact that she was more right than I liked to admit about me not being a good husband … or father.

The separation caused the biggest writer’s block I’ve ever experienced. In eight months I wrote a total of eight pages. I finally just abandoned the two projects I was working on, another Western that was about half finished, and a contemporary romance that was probably four-fifths complete. I started something else completely different and am happy to say I’m back on track and writing fairly regularly again.

I also left the high school where I worked for 12 years. The superintendent there at first supported teachers in the walk-out back in the spring, then sold us out and ordered us back to work, claiming to have board approval when he did not. About 100 teachers left the district over that. Not all of them went on the TV news to talk about how we were betrayed. That was me. I have a bad habit of burning bridges. I went to another metro high school, and I’ve been extremely unhappy there.

I’m reading a lot about book promotion, trying to understand why my books don’t sell more. According to what I’ve read, with the number of books I have out, I should be able to support myself with writing. But I can’t. Maybe my books just suck. During the writer’s block, I seriously thought about just giving it up.

Bottom line, I intend to start blogging again. Maybe doing some videos or podcast-type things. But I don’t want it all to be, “Buy my books!” I’m still thinking about a platform that I can sustain that might interest somebody. Any suggestions?

Walking Out: A Teacher’s Perspective

Tomorrow morning I’ll join many of my colleagues in voting yes to walk off my job as a teacher on April 2nd. It’s a vote that comes with a lot of anger, a lot of concern for my students, and a lot of fear for my own future.

Today our district superintendent laid out what will happen in terms of our salaries if this walkout drags on for an extended period. It isn’t pretty, folks. In terms of salary, there’s a cutoff date and if the walkout goes beyond that, teachers won’t get 1/6 of their annual salary. Typically, that means two months’ pay at the end of June. With Oklahoma teachers being the lowest paid in the nation, it isn’t hard to guess that most of us do not have the savings to survive a summer without a paycheck.

If the Oklahoma Legislature refuses to raise the GPT to fund teacher pay raises and return the money taken from education over the past several years, many teachers will be forced to take other jobs or leave the state as the walkout continues. It’s something that’s already happening way too often, but it’s one thing to limp along with a little money and another thing to suddenly face a total lack of income (except for the 2nd and 3rd jobs many of us already have). Oklahoma’s GPT, by the way, is the lowest in the region, about half of Texas’ GPT … Texas, where teachers earn about $20,000 per year more than in Oklahoma. It’s not going to hurt the big oil companies to pay more taxes for drilling here.

Salary issues aside, what about the students? Will my students miss out on taking their Advanced Placement tests in May? If teachers are out for a while, will the students be adequately prepared for those tests? What about the kids who rely on school for two meals a day? The ones who need a teacher or counselor to turn to when home life is bad? What about sports? Band and choir concerts? Prom? Graduation? Can parents afford to pay more for childcare when school isn’t in session? What trouble might bored teenagers find with extra time out of class?

One of our state representatives has already said the teacher walkout is “extortion.” The students Rep. Coody said this to responded well, hitting several important issues, such as unqualified people teaching our students as qualified teachers flee the profession or the state, the lack of supplies, overcrowded classrooms, etc. The students understand we are not abandoning them. They work every day with books missing covers and pages, watching YouTube videos of science experiments because they don’t have lab supplies to actually do the experiments, and trying to get the most from their class periods when there are 35+ students in a room designed to hold 25. Our students support us. They know we’re not the greedy people the legislators are already making us out to be.

Already the Oklahoma lawmakers are acting to punish teachers with recent bills passed through committees. In one instance, violent students who have assaulted teachers will be allowed to return to school, putting teachers, staff, and their fellow students in danger. HB 3539 seeks to eliminate minimum teacher salaries and annual step increases under the guise of allowing districts to compete for the best teachers. However, districts can already pay more than the state minimum, so in reality the bill simply gives districts a reason to do away with step increases, which typically are about $200 per year. Another bill limits the time period teachers can look for employment in other districts, threatening to revoke teaching certificates if teachers resign after June 15.

Hopefully the parents — the Oklahoma voters — understand all this. Hopefully they will join teachers on April 2nd at the State Capitol. Hopefully they will call their representatives and senators and demand that lawmakers give teachers their first pay raise in 10 years and restore education funding.

Failure to act together as a state right now will likely mean a very long-term failure as our education system continues to crumble and Oklahoma students fall further and further behind their peers in our country.

Signing with Hartwood Publishing

This post may ramble a bit as I explain the situation, so let me just summarize everything right up front. I’ve signed a contract with Hartwood Publishing letting them publish my novel Bold Bounty, an historical romance that has ties to my Werewolf Saga.

Okay, now for the details …

I learned of  Hartwood Publishing by reading Gordon L. Rottman‘s novels The Hardest Ride and Ride Harder. I enjoyed both of them. They’re western novels, and the first one made The USA Today bestseller list. I’m about halfway through my second western novel, so I thought I’d see if Rottman’s publisher might be a company I’d consider for Badger’s Bend when it’s finished. To my surprise, Hartwood requires that all stories have a strong romantic element, which Rottman’s books do, though I didn’t consider them romance books. Badger’s Bend has a romantic subplot, but like I said, it’s only half finished and isn’t even the project I’m working on at the moment. But I was intrigued by the company and recently finished a round of edits on Bold Bounty, so I thought I’d dangle that worm out there and see if there was any interest. There was.

So, a little about Bold Bounty. The novel was originally written at about the same time I was writing Shara. I finished it before I started college, so that was about 1997 or so. In 2001 it took third place for Historical Romance in the annual Oklahoma Writers Federation, Inc. contest. At the time, it was a straight historical romance about a Welsh noblewoman captured by Vikings and given to the son of their chief as a potential wife. The woman, Morwen, was betrothed to a cruel French marquis, and that was the conflict.

Then along came Douglas Summers. Mr. Summers was a British werewolf friend of Josef Ulrik who had a very short appearance in Ulrik. Although he died quickly, Summers stuck in my head because of his role in The Pack as an historian. I created “The Halden Cache: A History of the Foundation Stone, and Translation of the Accompanying Text” and attributed Nag Hammadi-inspired document to Summers. In this fictional document, Summers relates how Bjorn Halden came to be a member of The Pack and how Bjorn held meetings of many members of The Pack every 10 years. Bjorn is the son of the Viking chieftain in Bold Bounty. See how it all starts to tie together? For the story of Bold Bounty, Bjorn is NOT a werewolf. The series title for these romance-heavy novels tied to The Werewolf Saga (yes, there are more than one) is The Werewolf Saga Apocryphal Tales. Honestly, Murdered by Human Wolves and Call to the Hunt should both be part of this series, but whatever.

So, why Hartwood Publishing instead of MoonHowler Press? Frankly, I’m hoping for more money. Rottman making the USA Today bestseller list made me think Hartwood must know something about marketing, which is seriously my weakest point. Also, I’m not so good at cover design. I think I’ve done a few decent covers with stock images, but overall, they’re pretty basic. Sales. MoonHowler Press books just aren’t moving. Is it the self-publishing stigma? My lack of skill marketing? Are the books not very good? I don’t know. Even the free e-books don’t generate enough reviews for me to find out what people do and don’t like. I’m hoping working with what seems to be a reputable smaller press will help me gain exposure. I never thought I’d work with another small press I’m not in control of, but I look forward to seeing what Hardwood Publishing will do with Bold Bounty.

And yeah, I know … romance. Publishing a romance next, a western novel this past summer. Where’s the horror? I dunno. But here’s a shocker … the book I’m currently working on is a contemporary romance without any supernatural elements whatsoever.

Review: Take Me with You

Take Me with You
Take Me with You by Catherine Ryan Hyde
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Early on, I was thinking this was going to be a 5-star book. But the second half just didn’t hold up to the promise of the beginning. That being said, I did thoroughly enjoy the story despite some issues with it.

August is a high school science teacher and a recovering alcoholic. He lost his 19-year-old son to a drunk driver sometime before the book begins. Every summer he takes his RV out on the road to explore national parks and such. As the story opens, his rig has been towed to a little shop where the mechanic offers him the repair for free … if August will agree to take, Wes, the mechanic’s, two young sons with him for the summer while Wes serves another jail sentence for, you guessed it, DUI. August agrees, and the road trip begins.

I loved this part of the book. I mean, I was wondering how I could get copies of this book to use in my AP Literature class. But then things just didn’t keep building like I hoped. I expected more symbolism, a stronger theme, etc. There is a theme that I’d love to teach, about how we have to live our lives, letting the benefit outweigh the risk and accepting that sometimes bad things will happen no matter how many precautions we take. But, things like Henry running away was just glossed over after the incident. I expected more when August and his ex-wife met. And then there was the eight-year jump in time and the continuation of an emotional attachment with very little shown to sustain it during that time.

One thing I have to note is about the scene where the RV breaks down and Seth has to go for a water pump. There was no discussion about the core charge/refund for the old pump. Sorry. I guess it’s a minor thing, but with all the going back and forth and concern over money and getting the wrong part first, I just expected there to be something said about it.

I’m walking too close to the line with major spoilers. It’s a good book. In fact, I talked myself up from 3 stars to 4 as I wrote this review. It didn’t live up to the potential I saw for it in the beginning, but I certainly did enjoy it and recommend it.

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Review: A Man Called Ove

A Man Called Ove
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I came across A Man Called Ove while browsing, not looking for anything in particular. The reviews were good, so I gave it a try. I’m glad I did. There’s nothing groundbreaking here, but it’s a strong character study about an old Swedish curmudgeon who learns to love before it’s too late.

Ove has always been a man of few words, like his father before him. He worked hard until he was told to retire, and now all he has to keep him going is making sure his unruly neighbors are following all the rules of their neighborhood association, something Ove helped establish before he was deposed as the leader of that by his former friend Rune, who now suffers Alzheimer’s. When a lanky man, his head-strong Iranian wife, and their two daughters move in next door, and an almost-hairless beat-up cat decides to adopt Ove, well, his life has to change. For instance, he can’t seem to find the time to kill himself to join his wife in the afterlife.

The book made me smile several times. Fredrik Backman had Ove determine a lot about people by the cars they drove. That was kind of nice, but not being very familiar with Saabs and Volvos, it didn’t mean a whole lot to me. I assume it would be like me driving a Ford and thinking Chevy people are defective.

By far, my favorite character was Parvenah, the Iranian neighbor. She caught on to what Ove was up to and, instead of confronting him about it, did what a smart woman who understands people would do. That’s really the strength of this book, the interaction between the characters and how they understand and relate to one another.

I had a little trouble with the ending. The bit with the journalist and the others confronting the man in the white shirt was, I thought, a little too coincidental. But really, it wasn’t enough to spoil a very good story.

The audio was extremely well done, too.

It’s a really good book. I recommend it.

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