RIP Aunt Ruth

 

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I’m mourning my Aunt Ruth Hine today. She went into cardiac arrest a few days ago and had been on life support until yesterday. I’ve talked about this mostly on Facebook because I’ve just been too exhausted and emotionally drained to do much else with it. But she was special enough in my life that she needs to be remembered here.

Growing up, her house was our holiday house. My family is small – my mom, my dad, and my sister – and we don’t have a ton of contact with family on my mom’s side but going to Aunt Ruth’s provided a taste of that big family for holidays you always see on television. We’d spend Thanksgiving evening over there almost every year eating leftovers and watching Lions football and eating some more and then watching movies. Most of the seminal 80s movies from the time: ET, Back to the Future, Planes, Trains, and Automobiles, Gremlins, Goonies, and others I first remember watching over there. Same with Christmas Eve.

As everyone grew older and scattered across the country, those holiday visits grew fewer and further between. But she still remained in my life and my most recent memory was of her and my Uncle Dennis showing up for my book signing at the Barnes and Noble in Flint. They bought multiple copies of the book and congratulated me like I was one of their kids. I have a picture somewhere of all of us I took that day and I wish I could find it, but I know she was smiling.

She was always smiling. She had a booming voice (which is saying a lot considering my dad is noted for his loud voice but she had him beat) that had the most distinct tone I’ve ever heard in a voice. It had a Brooklyn attitude with a Queens edge and a bit of a southern lilt to it as well even though she never lived any of those places. I remember her finger nails as well. From the time I was little until that recent book signing the most distinctive trait of hers I remember were her manicured nails. She was the first person I remember having professionally done nails and it always seemed very elegant for a woman from my family which was certainly not noted for being elegant.

I will miss her greatly but she left a legacy of memories and kids and grandkids that will last long after her and carry her story and her spirit to future generations.

Timeline Of An “Impressive” Hernia

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The story of how I spent 12 hours in the ER followed by emergency hernia surgery and then a four-day hospital stay begins, as all good stories do, with debilitating gas pain.

Last Monday was already a pretty rotten day to begin with. I hadn’t slept much the night before and was operating in zombie mode for most of the day. I’ve had a bulge in my groin (pause for laughter) for the better part of a decade that has never been anything more that something odd to look at in the mirror. A couple of years ago during a routine physical my primary physician looked at it and diagnosed it as an inguinal hernia. He said at some point I should have it fixed surgically and then I followed the traditional American male path of action and did nothing. I was paid back for that decision in full force last week.

After a few times of being bent over with such awful pain in my gut, I knew something wasn’t right. I texted Becky I was heading to the ER and told my boss who seemed genuinely concerned. A co-worker offered to drive me but I made a joke or something and told her I’d drive myself. I was about halfway to the parking lot when I reconsidered that decision and let her drive me.

I spent the next 8 hours live tweeting my experience in some amount of discomfort, but nothing truly awful. I read a lot on my Kindle, watched some horrible TV, and then Becky joined me later with Jimmy John’s and my laptop. It was a fun date night. But as the night went on, the pain got worse. After about 8 hours I went back to the ER nurse and told her the pain was getting awful. They took me to a room, hooked me up to some morphine, and then a parade of residents, med students, and surgeons came through trying to push the hernia back into place with no luck.

A couple of highlights were feeling like I was going to die after my first shot of morphine and giving the med students on duty far more information and access to my injury than I think they had ever expected in the ER. After a while the surgery chief deemed my hernia incarcerated (pause for crime fiction related laughter) and schedule me for surgery.

After the surgery he smiled and said it had been an impressive hernia that encompassed my intestines, my bladder, and even some poop. Ew. I know. I slept the sleep of the Oxy-drugged that evening and expected to go home in the morning. My body had different ideas though. I woke up the next morning with pressure in my chest that wouldn’t go away. I mentioned it a few times to the nurse and she said it was likely due to the anesthesia. It never got worse, but it didn’t go away either. I couldn’t rest because the pressure was constant. I couldn’t pass the time or focus on anything else except the pressure.

The slow passage of time and the inability to do anything to make it go away quickly drove me batty. I finally had a full-on panic attack sometime in the afternoon  that I have to say was not pretty. It kind of freaked Becky out too. I was standing up screaming about wanting to rip my body off and run away. I cried and told them all I really wanted was to be able to breath well enough to take a nap and watch Judge Judy without thinking I was going to slowly suffocate to death. The doctors rushed in and did some tests and tried some things to make sure I wasn’t having a heart attack or anything before finally giving me a Valium and telling me to take a nap. They gave me another Valium before bed and that was the kicker. I got a good night’s sleep and the next morning felt much, much better.

And now I’m home recovering. I posted this to Facebook and think it’s a good point to reinforce:

Iwas in the ER for 12 hours, had complicated emergency surgery, stayed four days in the hospital, and paid NOTHING out of pocket.

I have two weeks of sick time to receive full pay and benefits while I read and watch Kimmy Schmidt reruns to heal.

It’s disgusting that in a country as great as ours these things make me an anomaly.

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I Killed The President Of Paraguay With A Fork*

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*I’m talking reunions and the go-to quote for most people seems to be the one about inventing Post-Its from Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion, but I’ve always been more of a Grosse Pointe Blank fan and I like this quote instead.

So yes, I spent the weekend in Grand Blanc at my 20 year high school reunion and it was awesome. I didn’t go to my 10 year reunion but this one was great. Life experience has a way of recalibrating priorities and by this time in life all of the crap from high school has a way of melting away and we all just celebrating survival and what we’ve made of our lives.

And speaking of what we’ve made of our lives, I have to say having my first novel come out a few months before my 20 year reunion and being deep in the writing of my second contracted novel when it happened certainly made things much more enjoyable. Folks I really didn’t talk to much in high school were starting conversations with me about how much the enjoyed the book or how cool they thought it was that I had a novel published. That sort of conversation started makes even a social wanker like myself look like a conversational wizard. My choice of wardrobe also contributed greatly to conversation, I think.

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The only disappointing part was that I really didn’t get to see most of the people I actually hung out with in high school. I was a theatre and choir geek and those groups tend to be more multi-year and generational groups so the vast majority of my closest friends in high school were a year or two younger or a year or two older than me. But it was still fun.

And this will likely be my last visit to the web for a while as I’m about two weeks behind on that aforementioned second contracted novel and need to get it done.

 

Murder Boy Is A Bestseller AND A Staff Pick in Chicago

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The quarterly bestseller list for the Century and Sleuths bookstore in Chicago has been released and Murder Boy is #5. It’s also listed as a Staff Pick. I assume this is all due to my delightful sales success at the Printer’s Row Literary Festival so thanks to the store for taking a chance on me and thanks to the MWA Midwest chapter for giving me the opportunity to sign there.

Deep in the slog of writing Riot Load, this sort of stuff is a nice little ray of hope. I can’t wait for you all to see this next book I’ve got up my sleeve.

Our Desktop Died So We Bought The Kids Tablets

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Specifically, these two RCA 7 inch tablets I bought at Walmart for $49. The kids have been using my iPad (and fighting over my iPad) for too long and making it too sticky so the time was soon coming for a change. I’ve had a lot of editing work to do lately and I like to do structural editing on my iPad rather than my Macbook because 1) it feels more like reading an actual manuscript which is important to me on big picture reads and 2) it’s easier on my wrists for long stretches of work.

Because I’ve had the iPad more the kids have had to find other ways to digitally amuse themselves (and learn, Spenser especially likes to play numbers and reading games) and that usually meant going to our desktop. That option crapped out on us last week with a bad video card and after looking each other with blank stares trying to name things we actually need a desktop for, we decided the better option was to get the kids their own tablets.

I know this is a horrible road we’re going down but frankly I don’t care. They still play outside a lot, and I’ve seen first hand the knowledge Spenser has picked up from it so, eh. I’m waiting for the first person to complain about us letting them have them at restaurants. As fellow diners of ours you only have two options: A quiet experience for all involved, but you have to keep your judgmental interfering to yourself or a horrible noises chaotic mess that you can gloat about to us and likely get yelled at if I’m in one of my moods.

This is a developing story. The pool is now open on how soon before we have to take them away from the kids.

UPDATE: Three days later we had to take them back because they were cheap garbage and wouldn’t work. So we spent a little bit more to get the Kindle Fire Kids Edition that comes with not only a year of free Kindle Unlimited books and apps for the kids, they also have a 2 year no questions ask replacement guarantee if the kids break them. That, my friends, is priceless.

Playscapes, Play Dates, And Parenting Illusions

Editing a brilliant manuscript on an iPad in the play area of a suburban McDonalds. I love the future.

This is my setup today while I do some work and still try to stay engaged with the kids. Since I gave up the full-time freelance life I essentially have one full-time day job and two part-time jobs with my freelance editing business and my novel work. That’s a lot of work, but the money allows us a lifestyle that wouldn’t otherwise be possible on just one income and it’s fun and feeds my creativity in  way that’s different from  my day job and I’m grateful for that.

But one of the things I miss most about working from home is the amount of time I was able to spend with the kids. This is made worse by the fact that a few times a week to get my work done I need to leave the house and go to a coffee shop or McDonald’s to focus and that’s more time away from the family which is no fun (actually the worst part is that I don’t always feel bad about it and kind of enjoy the solitude but the bigger picture does make me feel bad).

To compensate for some of that I like to take the kids to McDonald’s with me where they can play and I can work but I’m right there with them and feel more engaged with them. Today was one of those days. I have off for the July 4th holiday and it worked out very well. I got a lot of work done and still had fun with the kids and it was great. I anticipate a lot more fun times with the kids and Becky this weekend even though I still have A LOT of writing and editing to work on as well.

Enough Controversy, Let’s Be Silly

Believe it or not this is a fiction writing related post. For the last few days I’ve been talking about controversial things and being dropped by friends and family and generally feeling miserable from both sides of the political and religious spectrum. I don’t make a habit of talking about this sort of stuff very often because 1) it’s exhausting and 2) I’m really not very good at it.

I’m good at writing about my emotions and what I’m feeling and such and I’m very proud of the piece I wrote here about finding myself between a rock and a hard place supporting supporting gay marriage, but I hate following up with those discussions. I hate defending my positions and mostly i just had dragging it out. Once I’ve written about something I’m done with it, I’ve had my say, and I’m looking to move on to the next thing. And after a big social and religious post, I usually like to move on to something silly. And getting back to that first sentence, this has all, once again, made it very clear to me I have no interest in writing social fiction or serious fiction or psychological fiction or whatever it’s being called these days.

As much as I’d love to be the next Lehane or Lippman or Megan Abbott or whoever, that’s just not my wheelhouse. I can’t keep a straight face. That doesn’t mean I don’t want to tackle serious issue or complex or controversial issues, I just need to do it with some humor and, more often than not, in an exaggerated and satirical fashion. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what my next writing project will be (this is what happens when I get close to the end of one project, I can’t think of anything but what I want to write next)and this point has popped up a number of times. I want to write a “bigger” book and a more commercial book but I need to find a way to do that within my own style which, on initial examination, doesn’t appear to lend itself to a big commercial canvas, but that my job as an artist to make it work, right?

For now though, I have a very supportive publisher who is contractually obligated to publish whatever I write next as long as it’s good. I’m still working on making it good, but I can pretty much guarantee it’s not going to be serious.

 

An Update On What Was Wrong With Me

You’ll recall that just over a month ago I was at the urgent care clinic and had finally reached max tolerance of whatever virus or flu or curse had been inhabiting my body for nearly seven months. I am happy to report that the very next day I started feeling much better and have gone now six weeks feeling great. Here’s what happened:

First, the doctor at the urgent care clinic heard my sad story, looked inside my head holes and then jabbed me with a giant needle full of what he called an “antibiotic booster.” I had never heard of that before and had never been poked with a needle that big, but I had felt so awful for so long at that point I was ready to try anything. And wouldn’t you know that within an hour of getting that shot I started feeling much, much better. In addition to the Giant Shot of Healing, I had also just started a daily regiment of allergy pills and nasal allergy spray that was starting to show results as well.

I can’t tell you how much better I feel. I’m just now starting to get caught up on all of the side jobs I had fallen massively behind on due to the inability to maintain any sort of productive energy level for longer than an hour or so at a time and that feels great. Getting paid for that work makes Becky feel great. And we’ve been feeling great together quite a bit more as well.

Now the only time I feel groggy or crappy is when Natalie is up all night crying with teething pain like she was for the past few nights. But man, it feels good to be breathing free and clear and not passing out every few minutes from exhaustion.

And how are you all feeling today?

My Friends, My Family, And Pride

I am celebrating for many of my friends who can now be married thanks to the Supreme Court decision that legalized same sex marriage across all 50 states. While this puts me strongly in the majority of my publishing friends and colleagues and many of the friends I grew up with in theater and choir, it also puts me at odds with much of my family and many more of my childhood friends.

For some historical context, I was raised in an evangelical Christian household and went to private Baptist schools until high school. I made some very close friends during this time who still are active in this religious tradition as well as most of my immediate family members including my parents and my sister. I love these people dearly and it hurts me that they can’t celebrate this great moment in our country because of their interpretation of the Bible. It also hurts me to see so many people I respect who are celebrating this decision also expressing judgmental and angry opinions about anyone who disagrees with it. While there are many, many people who come to that view from an ignorant and hateful or manipulative place (I’m looking at you entire slate of Republican presidential nominees), there are others who are truly conflicted between their desire to love and their desire to live their view of a biblical life.

It’s easy to knock on evangelicals for being so aggressive in spreading their view of the gospel and their view of the world, but as someone who grew up in that world I can emphatically state that almost all of them do it from a place of love and a desire to save the world from a fiery eternity. What the world sees as annoying and aggressive Bible thumping, they see as yelling to the world about an impending danger.

This doesn’t mean they’re right, but it means that, like most things in life, there is no black and white, no good guys and bad guys. These are complicated humans with emotions and fears and desires and failures. I’m saying this to myself as much to anyone else. It’s easy to get frustrated and condemn dissenting voices, but this is America and the wrong voices get to have as much say as the right voices.

So I will celebrate my gay friends and my secular straight friends and I will have lively and engaging discussions in person with friends and family about these issues at family holidays, but this is likely all you will hear from me about this issue on social media. This is not because I’m ignorant or afraid of defending my positions, it’s because social media discussion of complex issues is like defending yourself against a murder rap using old episodes of Law and Order in a language you have only a passing fluency in.

I Loved Jurassic World And Strongly Recommend Everyone See It. Yes, Even You.

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Becky and I went to see Jurassic World on Saturday and it was everything I could hope for in a summer popcorn movie about killer dinosaurs. Due to scheduling and babysitting needs, the only show we could go see was the 3-D IMAX one. That turned out to be a key point in our enjoyment of the film. That look on Chris Pratt’s face above is how we looked up at the giant screen the whole time. IMAX 3-D has come a long way in even the 3 years since I last saw Tron: Legacy.

But really, this movie was awesome. It was funny and scary and sweet and intense. It had all of the major plot failings of summer movies, of course, but the CGI wasn’t nearly as distracting and fake looking as I had been led to believe. Even in the giant versions we were looking at. Aside from giant plot holes though, the film was also really smart is some spots, especially it’s commentary on theme parks, and greed, commercialization (I REALLY want to see what a PepsiSaurus would look like) and sequels. Anyone who has spent significant time at a massive theme park will find special delight in these moments.

And the world of Jurassic World really feels alive and lived in. I feel like this was a park I could actually go to after the movie (you know, if everyone hadn’t been eaten recently). Even what was put forth as the stupidest part of the movie – why in the hell would anyone create such a horribly misguided dinosaur as the one that highlights this film – had a logical, believable answer.

The best part though, is how this movie deals with the original in both scathing and sentimental ways. There is a phenomenal cameo at the very end that really made me smile. This was by far my favorite in the series since the first one. It had all of the wow and commentary about humanity as the first one, with the zip bam pow action and humor of the third one. And let’s talk about how HUGE Chris Pratt is going to be.