All posts by Bryon Quertermous

About Bryon Quertermous

Writer. Editor. Cautionary Tale.

Finally, At The Age of 38, I’m The Proud Owner Of An Electric Guitar

Specifically this one.

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It’s a Fender Squire Affinity Strat and came as park of a value pack at Guitar Center with an amp and cord and strap and some picks. It’s the design and color that reminds me most of all the guitars my guitar heroes play(ed). I know I was just talking about how much fun I was having with my ukulele but really all the ukulele did was reignite a long-standing desire I’ve had to learn how to play the guitar and I decided now was the time to do it. But instead of buying a cheap acoustic like I always have in the past, I really indulged myself and got my very first electric guitar. And boy did I make the right choice. I’ve been documenting the last two days since I got i ton Facebook.

I’ve had my new guitar for less than 24 hours and I’ve only thought about returning it twice. I had fun last night fooling around with it and the amplifier and then immediately got frustrated with what I can’t do on it. I went online and got immediately overwhelmed which did NOT help at all. But this is something I’ve always wanted to do so I’m sticking with it and here’s how:

I have three songs I want to learn: When Love Comes to Town (BB King & U2), and Blue on Black (Kenny Wayne Shepherd), and Leaving on a Jet Plane (John Denver). They all use open chords I know how to play so I’m going to start with the easiest of them and work on them a little bit every day until I can move between chords easily and cleanly, strum properly, and sing along with the songs. When I can do these three songs perfectly I’ll move on to other songs until I run into chords I can’t play and I have to learn new ones.

There might be an easier or better way to do it, but I think this is what will work for me.

Nice side benefit to playing guitar is that I’m SO bad at it that it makes me feel better about the parts of writing I still struggle with (cough, plotting, cough) because even my worst writing weaknesses are light years ahead of my most basic guitar weaknesses.

Today I found the overdrive settings on my new amp and cranked everything up to ten and jammed to the easy riff on When Love Comes To Town. Also fooled around with learning the Star Spangled Banner

Natalie is sleeping while I wail away on the opening riffs of Highway to Hell. She has the peace that comes with being a third child.

I’d also add that I learned the opening lick and chords for Secret Agent Man today as well. All in all a productive day of ax work.

2014 Income Distribution Chart

I like how a bunch of writers detail their income every year to show how much (or little) real working writers make. I didn’t make enough from writing novels this year to make it a worthwhile experiment here, but I did have substantial income from freelance editing. Kameron Hurley had a great post about how her writing income compared to her day job income and I thought that would be a great way to frame it here. So without giving away actual numbers here’s how my income broke down in 2014:

2014

A couple of things of note. The day job income includes my Angry Robot income from January until June plus my severance payment as well as work at my new day job from October through December. The freelance editing income includes work I did during the months between leaving AR and starting my new job as well as a few projects I’ve completed while in the new day job. It’s interesting to note that due to higher rates overall and a couple of very high paying publisher projects, I only made $170 less in freelance editing income in 2014 than I did in 2013 working 8 fewer months.

For 2015 I expect the freelance editing income to diminish a bit and the day job income to increase a bit and the novel income to increase a good bit. Here’s hoping, right.

Success, Like Revenge, Is Best Served Cold

This is something I posted to Facebook today that I think is important enough to be archived here permanently.

I was just talking to a friend about how long I’ve been around this industry and this community without a book deal and how it actually worked out in my favor.

If I had been published in 2003 like I wanted, when my very first novel was shortlisted for the Debut Dagger award, it would have been with a mediocre book that likely would have dropped without a trace in a very tough publishing climate. Of the 8 blurbs I’ve been blessed to receive for Murder Boy, only one of them was published in 2003. The writers I knew and would have blurbed me in 2003 would not have had the name recognition and industry sway of those who blurbed me now. I also have a much larger readership waiting for my book than I would have then. By publishing short stories and having cute babies I’ve raised my profile in way that wouldn’t have been possible in 2003.

And I would have taken that inevitable failure SO much harder in 2003 and likely wouldn’t have written again for a while. I could very well be rehabilitating my career in 2015 rather than launching it with the best book I’ve ever written.

So take heart, be patient, when you’re ready, when your book is ready, and when you’ve accumulated enough embarrassing photos of famous authors and newly launched publishers, your time will come too.

A Long Overdue Post About My Ukulele

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I bought this little beauty in January 2013 with an Amazon gift card I got from my in-laws for Christmas. I had already bought as many books as I wanted at the time and still had about $50 left on the card. I’d been following John Scalzi’s adventures with his ukulele and it seemed like a cool instrument. I have a long history of wanting to play the guitar as well as a long history of giving up on the guitar when it gets hard and my small little hands require more strength and practice than I’m willing to put in. But this is smaller, with fewer strings with the ability to play many many songs, not just creepy novelty tunes and Train covers.

But January 2013 was a rough month for me and so I put the uke away and completely forgot about it for about two years until I was cleaning our bedroom and I came across it. Coincidentally, I found it as that urge to play guitar made its semi-regular appearance in my brain. So I took the uke out and starting fooling around with it and quickly learned a song. Go me. Since then I’ve taken it out a few more times and have enjoyed it. Spenser is fascinated by it too and likes to watch me play.

It’s a Diamond Head DU-100 soprano ukulele that turns out to be a pretty good instrument according to the reviews I’m only now reading. The size is a little too small though for some chords and I have dreams up moving up to a slightly bigger concert size one when I have some extra money, but for now, this one does the job quite well. I think I’m going to invest $10 in a set of higher quality strings, but other than that I just want to learn to play a few more songs well on this one before getting carried away with buying something newer and shinier.

Coping With Traditional Gender Roles: Or, How I Found Myself Becoming Ward Cleaver

I’ve written here a number of times about the bullshit ideals of masculinity as a writer and how I’ll never be the sort of Hemingway he-man blue-collar writer that seems to be so popular in rural crime fiction these days. I’m twee and vain and soft and privileged and hyper-self aware of who I am and very comfortable with who I am.  And until recently I was that way in real life too.

For me, the best part of being a full-time freelancer was being a stay at home parent. Getting the kids off to school, playing with them on vacation, seeing them grow, and also doing the housework portion of the job. I’ve always been a bit of a neat freak and enjoy cleaning so it was a good match while Becky went out into the real world and made money and kept us in health insurance and such. I read mommy blogs and parenting blogs and found myself nodding along with what the most sarcastic and mean ones had to say about those other mothers who were making things too perfect for their kids.

But then a funny thing happened. My desire to stay at home and do the work I loved was replaced by this terrifying need to provide for my family. The need to provide became so disrupting that I couldn’t work (ironic, right)? Suddenly the freedom and flexibility I’d been enjoying with freelance scared the hell out of me and kept me up at night. That was easily remedied by going back to work full-time, getting platinum benefits, a great retirement, job security, and still kept the ability to write and edit books on the side for fun and extra money. But I also kept up a lot of the housework part of the job because I couldn’t work in a messy house and Becky was laid up due to the pregnancy from hell. This part sucked. I enjoyed doing all of that stuff when it was part of being a stay at home parent, but doing it on top of working full-time AND keeping up with the side jobs was really a pain in the ass.

And then another funny thing happened. Becky turned into Molly Friggin Homemaker. Suddenly she went from the slob I loved to the cleaning machine I love. She created a cleaning schedule for the house and a schedule for the kids and a homework schedule and a menu schedule. And she’s really good at it. She’s even making her own butter and learning how to sew. She’s happy and healthy and the kids love having her at home and the baby loves her and we don’t have to write giant painful checks to the daycare and my life is so much easier. The house is clean enough that I don’t have it as an excuse to not write or edit. She makes me a lunch to take to work and snacks and sometimes even breakfast. Suddenly I’m Ward Friggin Cleaver and it’s weird.

I’ve gone from being the only man in a lot of female dominated professions to one of many men in the web and IT field. At almost 40 years old I’m suddenly the embodiment of the traditional male trope for the first time in my life and have no idea what to do with myself. I’ve found myself slipping into lazy habits and I found misogyny and sexism is far, far easier to slip into than it ever used to be. This is going to take some growing on my part and some of that hyper-self-awareness I mentioned earlier. Will I survive? Will I start wearing house shoes and smoking a pipe? Will I have to join a lodge? Guess we’ll have to find out together.

Fat Friday

It seems cliched to start the new year with a post about weight loss but I’m entering 2015 the heaviest I’ve ever been. I know I’ve said it here before a number of times, but something needs to happen. I hate having pants and shirts that don’t fit and I really don’t like wheezing and losing breath when I bend over to tie my shoes. Im also suffering more with heartburn and acid reflux and low energy and all of the stuff that comes with getting older and treating your body like crap. My first step, as always, is to start tracking my calories again with the MyFitnessApp on my iPhone (now with added step tracker) and get my eating under control. I’m starting with eating smaller portions and less crap, and will work at adding more healthy options to my diet. I’ve tried this a bunch of times before with minimal success, but I need to keep trying until it sticks.

The harder part of the equation to calculate is the exercise portion. When it’s warmer out I can go for more walks which I enjoy. But in the cold, that’s less of an option. I also want to lift weights once in a while, but I think that might be a down the road thing. For now, I’ve set up an old treadmill in the basement with an old TV and DVD player, but I haven’t been able to drag myself down there. It’s too depressing. I’ve also thought about listening to audio books while I walk to help spur my interest. Again, whatever option I choose, I need to choose something. I don’t need to lose a ton of weight, but it’s as much a matter of changing what I eat as it is changing how much I eat.

 

 

Reflecting On A Complicated Year From Within The State Of Ohio

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Greetings from beautiful Sandusky Ohio. We surprised the kids with an overnight trip to a moderately sketchy indoor water park. We always decide at the last-minute to do these things during peak times which is why we usually end up facing weedy lots and abandoned gas stations. The room is pretty nice though and the kids love it which means I can get some work done.

And speaking of work, let’s reflect on 2014. I didn’t do one of these last year and regretted it. I do them more for posterity and to meet the curiosity of future me who loves to read through these old posts. Also, the end of the Christmas season is always depressing after such a quick end to months of buildup and thinking about the coming year helps transition me into a happier state of being.

So of course one giant aspect of 2014 sucked with me losing the Exhibit A job. But other than that, it turned out to be a pretty good year. For one, I *got* the Exhibit A job which was awesome while it lasted. I got a free trip to the UK, NYC, Phoenix, and a couple other places. I got to briefly work with some cool writers, and I got to pretend I was a big shot. That job also gave me a big leg up in getting my current job, which I also love and, in many ways, is a better fit for me in the long run.

Writing-wise, this is the yearly update I’ve been waiting to write for almost a decade. I finally got a book deal. A great book deal that went from a digital only deal to a paperback deal with great distribution and some amazing blurbs from some amazing people. It was also a two-book deal meaning I get to write another novel knowing that someone has already agreed to publish it. Now I just have to finish that second book.

I’d hoped this would be the year I started and finished the first draft of a novel in the same year, but alas, it’s not to be. Maybe next year. And next year I want to do a lot of writing. I want to finish that second book, I want to write another crime book not in that series, and I also have an urban fantasy novel I’d like to write. I also want to write some short stories. I will write at least one that digs into the back story of a major character from MURDER BOY because I want to do it as a giveaway for folks who pre-order MURDER BOY to help gin up early interest. But I have another story I’ve been wanting to write that I think I may have finally found a way into.

I don’t have an agent and I negotiated the MURDER BOY deal myself because I didn’t think I could have an agent while dealing with agents as the head of Exhibit A. But in 2015 I want to get an agent to help me sell these other books I’m writing as well as handling foreign rights and movie rights and theme park and calendar rights, etc. So if you’re an agent and reading this, expect to hear from me in 2015 and prepare your interns accordingly.

My reading was up this year from last year’s abysmal total. I had a goal of 24 books, or roughly two books a month, and I did meet that goal and will probably end the year a few books above it. My goal is always to read a book a week and end the year at 52, but it never happens. Next year I hope to be closer to the mid-40s I usually average. I hope adding some ebooks and audio books helps me achieve that goal.

On the family front, this was a great year. We had a happy, healthy, and beautiful new baby girl who is growing perfectly into her little personality. Spenser and Holly have grown out of the worst of their little kid traits and they’re fun to be around almost all of the time. I still want to spend more time doing stuff with them rather than just being in the same room as them, but I think I’ve done an okay job so far. Becky has enjoyed being a stay-at-home mom and I enjoy having someone at home baking and making my lunch and doing my laundry. I like to think I’m progressive, but something about traditional gender roles in comforting and fun as well.

 

Because I Love You All, Here’s a Nine Year Old Christmas Story

On December 15, 2005 I posted this story to my website about what happens when Santa Claus takes a walk on the wild side in Detroit. It holds up surprisingly well and considering I wrote it and was still surprised by it, I thought you all might enjoy it as well.

 

NICKY THE SAINT

I never would have guessed Santa Claus had a gambling problem until an elf told me he was into the Detroit mafia for over 50 grand.

We were having drinks at the Hazel Park Racetrack, a long reputed mob hangout. I was still in my work outfit of red velvet pants and black boots. The matching coat and beard were in my car. The elf was wearing jeans and a Detroit Lions sweatshirt. An obvious tourist.

“And I’m supposed to help him how?” I asked.

“You gotta find him first. He came down here almost three months ago and we haven’t heard from him since.”

“Down from the North Pole?”

“Yeah, but now it’s getting to be that time of the year…”

“Christmas is only a couple weeks away and you don’t have a boss,” I said.

“That’s not the problem. He hasn’t had a leadership role in years, he’s more of a figure head. But we’re worried about him. What if these goons…you know…”

“Whacked Santa Claus?”

The elf nodded. I got up from the table and pulled a  $10 bill from my wallet.

“I’m outta here,” I said. “This is ridiculous.”

“We figured as much,” the elf said, calmly. “So we’re prepared to offer you a hefty fee. In cash. Up front.”

As he spoke, the elf reached under the table and slid a briefcase my way.

“Five thousand dollars,” he said. “You can check.”

I kept the briefcase on the ground, but popped open the locks and looked in. It was full of bills. I couldn’t tell if it was exactly five thousand dollars but it was a lot. More than enough to get me out of my own debt hole.

“You want to pay a mall Santa Claus to find out who whacked the real Santa Claus?” I asked.

“No, no, you don’t have to find out who killed him, just if he’s dead or not. So we can start to look for a replacement.”

“And why me again? There are better people in Detroit for that. What about Amos Walker or Ben Perkins?”

“Walker is a crotchety SOB and nobody’s seen Perkins in years. You’re a mall Santa who used to be a cop. Seems like fate to me,” the elf said.

“This is ridiculous,” I said.

“But lucrative,” the elf said.

I thought about it for a bit more, wondering if I could get away with taking the elf’s money and then disappearing with it. Finally I sighed and nodded.

“I’ll look around. Where are you staying?”

The elf smiled and scribbled an address on my napkin. He was staying at the Days Inn by the airport.

“I’ve got family to visit so I’ll be in and out, but I wrote my cell phone number on there for you,” he said.

I couldn’t help but stare,

“What?” he asked. “You think elves are born in test tubes up North? I’m from Grosse Pointe. My dad’s a General Motors exec.”

“Whatever,” I said. “I’ll call you.”

* * *

The mafia in Detroit is not as strong as it once was, but there was still a cop or two who kept tabs on the drips of their activity. One of these cops is my friend Dale. I met him at the Elwood Diner by Comerica Park and he let me buy him lunch.

“I’m looking for a new guy on the scene. Not your traditional Italian goomba or anything, this guys more, uh, northern…and jolly,” I said.

“The turn over in this racket now is crazy and it’s hard to keep track of the low men as they come and go. But now that you mention it, there has been a guy out the last few months making some waves.”

“Older guy?” I asked. “White hair, kinda chubby?”

“They call him Nicky the Saint,” Dale said, “On a counta he looks like St. Nick.”

“At least their creativity has suffered.”

“He got something you want?”

“Just need to talk to him. Somebody from his old life’s looking to catch up.”

“That’s never good,” Dale said.

“I said I’d look. Didn’t say how hard though.”

“Guess it wouldn’t hurt to talk to him. Lemme make a call.”

I ordered some pie while Dale made a couple of calls on his cell phone. As I was about to ask the waitress for more coffee, Dale flipped his phone shut and said, “Hooter McGee’s, by the airport.”

“Santa Claus hangs out at an Irish strip club?”

“He looks like Santa, he’s not actually Santa. I think he might be Canadian.”

I thanked Dale and then headed out to the finest Irish strip club in Detroit near the airport.The lunch buffet crowd was dwindling when I arrived and a tall woman with a snake and bowler hat was dancing on the main stage. The everyday tacky pub decor had been covered with once a year tacky Christmas decoration. I paid the $10 cover and grabbed some of the potato bites from the buffet before being approached by a waitress wearing a short skirt, tank top, and faded red Santa hat.

“Buy a lady a drink?” She asked.

“I thought we were supposed to buy the strippers drinks, not the waitresses.”

“Jerk,” she said.

“I’d like to buy Nicky a drink though. Nicky the Saint.”

“Don’t know no Nicky the Saint, bub. So buy a drink or scram.”

I pulled a scrap piece of paper from my pocket and wrote something on it then handed it to her wrapped with a fifty dollar bill.

“If you happen to run into anyone named Nicky on your way to the bar, give him that for me would ‘ya.”

“Jerk,” she said, walking away.

A few minutes later, the waitress returned with a pink cup full of something fizzy.

“Take this into the VIP room and he’ll talk to you there,” she said.

“He’ll have his clothes on though, right?”

“Jerk,” she said.

I took my drink to the VIP room, in the back and sat down on a ratty old couch and tried not to touch it with any exposed skin. There were four couches in the room, two against each wall with a small divider between them. This is where you paid more money for the stripper to get totally naked and if you paid enough, they were rumored to do other things. Like bathe. As I continued my survey of the room, a fat man with all of his clothes on sat down next to me.

“It’s time, isn’t it?” He said.

The beard and the hair were the same white color I’d expected, but both were trimmed closely for a more elegant look. And instead of the red velvet outfit, he was decked out in a grey pinstriped suit with a crimson shirt and matching tie.

“Time for what?” I asked.

“You know. Please don’t make me say it.”

“Say it,” I said. “You know what happens if you don’t.”

He looked around the room suspiciously, then whispered, “Murder. It’s time for the murder.”

I nearly spit my fizzy concoction out of my nose.

“Murder,” I said.

“I know. I know.”

“I’m not who you think I am,” I said. “I’ve been hired by a group of your former employees…up north…to find you.”

“The elves sent you?”

I nodded.

“What do they want?”

“They’re concerned about you. Afraid you got yourself whacked.”

“I suppose I should have called them to let them know I decided to stay.”

“And take up life as a mobster.”

“It was fun at first. Break a leg here, crack a skull there. They were all naughty, I checked.”

“But now they’re moving you up the chain?” I asked.

“They want me to kill my bookie. The one who got me into this life. He helped me pay off my debt.”

“By breaking legs?”

“I’ve always been the good guy. It was fun to live on the wild side for a while. And the money is amazing.”

“You could buy yourself a lot of toys,” I said.

“The money for toys never came out of my pocket. It was all in stocks and some annuities. We got in on Microsoft early. I drew a small stipend to cover expenses and that was it.”

“So what happens if you don’t kill the bookie?”

“They kill me.”

“Are you ready to go back to your former life?”

“I’d love to,” he said. “I’ve thought about escaping to the North Pole several times but I knew these goons would follow me and I didn’t want to put the elves at risk.”

“Hmmm. I think I may know someone who can help you.”

* * *

“Jimmy Hoffa, meet Santa Claus,” I said.

“I thought you were dead,” Santa said.

“And in a couple days they’ll think the same thing of you,” Hoffa said, grabbing Santa by the shoulder and directing him toward a large couch in a huge hotel suite in a location I can’t disclose.

The two of them talked for a while and Santa explained his problem to Jimmy. When Santa was done, Jimmy poured two glasses of scotch for them both and raised his glass.

“To the death of Santa Claus,” he said.

I excused myself and left them to finalize the details of the “murder.” Since the early eighties, as mob guys started turning snitch left and right, Jimmy Hoffa has made a tidy fortune helping them disappear. Sure, the government offers witness protection, but can witness protection convince a cynical nation that a guy is buried under no less than three different sports stadiums? And can witness protection make you a legend in the process of helping you disappear? I think not. And I was more than certain witness protection couldn’t hide Santa Claus.

My suspicions were confirmed later when I read in the Detroit News that a “reputed mob leg breaker and dead-ringer for Santa Claus” had been murdered in a gangland hit on Christmas Eve. There were pictures and everything. My guy on the force said the street version had Nicky the Saint being whacked by the Russian Mob for trying to horn in on their rackets. Nobody was going to miss him.