Category Archives: Uncategorized

Stew’s Legs: A Weekend Rollercoaster of Emotions

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Over the last three days there have been several different version of this post I’ve written in my head, but things with Stewie kept changing so much that I didn’t feel comfortable posting a really sad post if things looked up or a really happy post and then have things go south. But after four days now, I think we’ve settled in to a new normal and I’m ready to work through what’s going on.

It started Thursday morning when I was in the bathroom and heard a huge crash and scrambling sound from the room where Stewie and the cat sleep. Just as I was headed into the hallway to see what was going on, Stewie came wobbling into the bathroom unable to move his right leg. Regular readers will remember that the last time this happened, I freaked out and let my mind go to some pretty dark places. So this time I probably under-worried and figured we’d ride it out and have another story to tell.

Well, it got worse. By the time I got home he had lost movement in both of his back legs and was no longer wagging his tail. He wasn’t eating, he wasn’t drinking, and things looked grim. Becky and I talked with the vet and talked with each other about how to handle what we figured were final preparations because we didn’t have $5 – $8k for surgery and we certainly didn’t want his quality of life to be crappy.

Friday morning I had an appointment with our regular vet to look at him, but they sent me to the emergency vet. At that point, and with how the vet tech I talked to framed things, I thought I was waiting for the vet to explain steps for putting him to sleep and I balled and balled and balled. I took him out of his crate, lobby rules be damned, and held him close.  After a half hour or so, they took us into a room and the emergency vet came to see us. And she was in a good mood.

She talked to Stew and felt around his back and his legs and talked about how smelly his farts were and how that was to be expected. She casually tossed off the question of whether surgery was something we’d be interested in and when I said no she just moved right ahead with other options. She said this was common with older dogs of this breed (Stew is 10 1/2  but the kids have aged him even more I think) and many paralyzed dogs go on to live long happy lives. She talked about slings and wheelchairs and ways to protect his belly and feet from getting raw as he drags himself around the house. I was suddenly smiling. And Stew even wagged his tail when she picked him up.

We left with three bottles of drugs, a very reasonable bill, and even a sliver of hope he might be able to walk again some day. I’d gone, in the space of two hours, from wondering if I would have to take the kids out of school to be there for his final moments, to laughing at Stew being like one of the dogs in the kids’ new favorite movie The Secret Life of Pets.

It was exhilarating; it was also exhausting.

But he did fine that night and took all of his meds well and ate and drank his water and did all of his dirty dog business.  The next morning though seemed grim again. He was sad looking and wasn’t eating and wasn’t drinking and kept looking longingly outside and I could tell he wanted to be outside running around. I tried to go back to sleep but couldn’t get his sad face out of my mind and wondered if I was being selfish and if I was doing the right thing. But as the morning wore on and the kids came out to play with him and he started scooting around to follow us all around and he felt part of the family again, I was happy.  We were even able to take him out into the back yard and play fetch with his favorite ball for a bit. His eyes absolutely lit up when we did that.

We’re now looking at ways to make his new life easier for him and keep as much of it the same as before. We’ll be getting him a little wheelie cart for longer walks and fetch games as well as building him a little ramp from our kitchen down into our family room. We also need to get something for him to wear around the house to prevent the raw spots on his belly and legs from dragging them around. But all of this pales in comparison to not having him around and he seems happy with his life as it is so I’m not going to take that from him.

Digital Fire Sale! Everything Must Go!!!!

If you been waiting to experience the world of Dominick Prince, you’re in luck. Just in time for beach reading/office hooky reading season, the ebook versions of Murder Boy and Riot Load are just $2.99 each. That’s two Dominick Prince adventures for less than the price of a paperback novel. Links to your favorite crass commercial or ethically independent bookseller are below:

Murder Boy

Amazon.com I Barnes & Noble I Kobo I iBooks I Google

Schuler Books I Murder by the Book I Seattle Mystery Bookstore I Centuries & Sleuths

Riot Load

Amazon.com I Barnes & Noble I Kobo iBooks I Google

Schuler Books I Murder by the Book I Seattle Mystery Bookstore Centuries & Sleuths

How can you see this face, knowing a percentage of every book you buy goes to feed and entertain her, and not buy a bunch of copies for your friends and co-workers?

*If you’ve already read either book, I’d really appreciate an honest review at the site (or sites) of your choice. Thanks!

I Was an Edgar Awards Judge, Now I’m an MWA Commercial

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Now that it’s been printed in the official Mystery Writers of America Annual, I can share the fact that I spent 2016 as an Edgar Awards judge. Due to an iron-clad NDA and personal threat of violence from Margery Flax, I can’t go into detail about the process we went through, but I did want to take a minute to talk about how reading almost every single hardcover book from 2016 that wasn’t a debut changed me as a reader and as a writer.

I read a lot, and I like to think I read widely, but there’s nothing like a tsunami of books to challenge one with the rather staggering amount of prejudices once has in one’s reading. I’d always known there were blind spots in my reading preferences – namely historical fiction and foreign fiction – but I quickly realized there were a LOT of books that triggered various prejudices in me and that I would have put down under ordinary circumstances. But when I signed up for the judging gig, I signed up to read at least part of every book I was assigned and it was a revelation. I found historical books I loved and foreign books I loved (still think Scandinavian stuff is overwrought for the most part though) and books by authors of color and books across every other corner of humanity and experience. I hope to carry this new-found love of broad reading into the years I’m not forced to read outside my limited exposure.

Exposure is another thing I was always aware of last year. Anyone who thinks there is a large-scale conspiracy to keep good novels unpublished has never been fully confronted with the reality of just how many books are published by major publishers every year. It’s. Staggering. And that was just the stuff up for the best novel award. Getting a good book published is not hard; getting a good book noticed, though, that’s where the trouble is.

This is why it’s important for readers and writers alike to use every tool at their disposal to help spread the word about books we love: reviews, blog posts, stars on websites, giving books as gifts, reading for awards, giving awards, etc. I used to be a snob about the amount of awards there were in the crime fiction field, but every award is a chance for books that may have been looked over to get their chance to shine. This is where organizations like MWA shine for their authors.

In addition to making sure they get published under good conditions, MWA and it’s volunteer army have dedicated themselves to spreading the word about the genre and its authors. Through regional MWA university panels, library meetings, and sponsorships with various festivals, among other activities, they give their authors – from bestseller on down to debut small press authors – a shot at desperately-needed exposure. And I’m happy to be a part of it.

I’ve made no secret of the fact that I crave a traditional publishing career, one many say may be dead or dying. That’s a discussion that’s been beaten to death and not one I want to indulge today, but regardless of career goals or ambitions, we’re all better served with a robust readership with a robust voice and I’d recommend all authors look into what MWA can offer them and their career.

</end MWA shilling>

 

Take Your Kids To Work Day 2017

It doesn’t happen every year, but the stars aligned this year for me to take the kids to work with me for Take Your Kids To Work Day. They spent part of the day seeing what my exciting cube-based work life is like and then we spent the afternoon getting a tour of my university employers’ research facility and the bio chemistry lab. Spenser was particularly interested in this part of the day and announced he now plans on being a scientist. It was a pretty cool day all around and I enjoyed the extra time I was able to spend with them.

What a Lovely Day

Yesterday evening and all of today I was able to do something I haven’t been able to do much of recently: read for pleasure and relax. I finished up a big editing project after having big editing projects back-to-back for quite some time and looking at back-to-back editing projects for the near future. While this is certainly good for my bottom line (though after paying my taxes I sometimes wish my bottom line was much lower), working that much without reading for pleasure or letting my brain recharge depletes me creatively (and yes, editing is creative as much as it is logical).

I was lucky over the first few months of the year to read enough great short stories to prime myself creatively to write a short story I had due that turned out much better than I expected, but short stories are easier to fit into my schedule and the writing only took a few days, again, much easier to fit into my schedule (and even then, I missed the deadline by a day).  I still have a really ambitious book I want to write this year and to do that book justice, my brain and subconscious need to be working at peak capacity.

And even for my editing clients, the vast majority of whatever editing skill I possess didn’t come from my college classes or from any sort of training I got when working in NYC, it comes from decades spent reading everything I could find and thinking about story and structure and development analytically and methodically. To maintain that skill, I need to make time to read current books and keep thinking about story and structure as it has developed over the decades. So that means that, yes, the nap I took today and the book I read are as important to my process as my senior English seminar on Shakespeare. Maybe more so.

It certainly helped that the weather was absolutely gorgeous. Sunny and mid-70s, so I spent more time outside than I have recently, though I regret not taking a walk like I’d hoped to do, and I’ve noted here before that warm weather always refreshes and re-energizes me.

The book I read helped as well. For the last few years I’ve been trying to work more non-fiction into my reading diet and there’s nothing I like more than stories about writers and behind the scenes stories of stuff. So Seinfeldia, a book about the behind the scenes development of Seinfeld that details a lot about how the writers worked and found their ideas was right in my sweet spot. Reading books like this always inspire me to look at the world anew creatively and help me avoid becoming complacent in my very fine workaday middle class white collar life. I want more from life than any office job or banal hobby can offer and it’s good to be reminded of that on a regular basis.

I also have to shout out to Greg Herren, one of the many writers I spar with online but secretly respect (even if he is an SEC football fan, UGH) whose daily blog posts of the mundane and small moments of his life are always infused with humor and intelligence. There aren’t many author still blogging with any regularity anymore, and even fewer from the crime fiction community, so reading his posts also inspires me to return here on a regular basis instead of wasting all of my good material on Facebook.

Me + Libraries: A Love Story

I was in the mall branch of the Ann Arbor District Library the other day and snapped this photo of Murder Boy in the wild.  I previously saw a copy in the downtown branch when I was there for an event and I thought I’d talk about why it’s important to me to see my first novel in those two branches.

I grew up in libraries and they are responsible, in almost every way, for who I am today as a writer. I started in what passed for the young adult section (Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, Bobbsey Twins, Boxcar Children, Tom Swift, Choose Your Own Adventure, and Laura Ingallas Wilder, and so many books on card tricks and ventriloquism and space and any number of hobbies I briefly pursued) and moved quickly to the adult section with Agatha Christie, Stephen King, Isaac Asimov, and so, so many Star Trek and Star Wars novelizations.

This is also where I made the pivot into crime fiction with Robert B. Parker, Sue Grafton, Robert Crais, and Michael Connelly. The books I read in the library growing up formed my base of reading and inspired my various attempts at early fiction writing. And the best part about my time in those libraries is that I never doubted I would be a writer. It was only a matter of time.  But the two Ann Arbor library branches I mentioned correspond to a time when I was at my lowest financial and creatively.

I was so, so poor and frustrated with where my life was and stuck in an epic battle in my mind about what kind of writer I should be and wondered any number of times if I would ever write another novel again, let alone have one published. But I kept reading. I watched great movies and TV shows for free from the library and went to author events for free, all of which helped chip away at the doubt and get me back to where I needed to be.  So to see these books on their shelves represents such a turnaround from where I thought I would be and I can’t say thanks enough. The Ann Arbor District Library was also the first library to buy my books. I donated copies to my own local library, and I’ll donate a copy of Riot Load to AADL so they don’t have to spend money on it, but that  initial purchase will never be forgotten.

These days I’m lucky to be in a position to buy just about any noveI I want to read, but I still hang out at the library and do a lot of writing there. I take the kids there. I check out a ridiculous amount of non-fiction from there. And I hope it’s around for a very long time.

Hey, I Finished A Short Story Tonight

I finished my first short story in almost nine years today and it feels great. This is a story I’ve had in my head for a while and wanted to write, but I’ve mostly been focusing on novels lately and have gotten out of the writing for free game, so options were always going to be limited. Then lo and behold last year I got an email from an old friend who was editing an anthology and wondered if I might like to submit something. The money offered was good, and provided the story wasn’t awful, acceptance was virtually guaranteed, so that gave me the freedom to really dig into the uncomfortable parts of this story without worrying about how it would appeal to a submissions editor.

The next week I filled out the contract, opened a file with the story name and then sat on it for a long time mulling the story over in my head. The final version is much, much different than from the version I originally had in my head. It was originally going to be a revenge/protector story featuring a complicated and horrible character I wanted to attempt to make sympathetic. But as I worked through the story in my head, the plot just wouldn’t work. I finally cracked it open when I switched to the POV of the mother involved and suddenly I had a doozy of a piece about a mother faced only with bad choices and how she navigates the loss of her daughter. I’m very happy with how it turned out and hope my career included many more invitations to write for anthologies because I love doing it this way (actually, I have one more invite I accepted that it technically writing for free but the proceeds will be donated to a cause I care a great deal about, so I’m excited to do it).

Happy Marriage Announcement Party Day To My Wife

It hasn’t been a full decade yet, but the other day I was thinking about how wholly and wonderfully I have been transformed since I married Becky. The year before our wedding I was petty and weird and unmoored and way too old to be living life the way I was living it. My dreams were messy, my finances were abysmal, and my maturity was non-existent. And then in the space of just under a decade, this woman got me married, got me into steady, full-time employment, got be into being a homeowner, a father, and a fully contributing member of society.

With all of that real world growing up she encouraged me in, wouldn’t you know that my artistic dreams began flourishing as well. Since we’ve been together I’ve published short stories in award-winning anthologies, built a respected and enjoyable freelance editing business, and published two well-received novels. And because of Becky, all of that means so much more than if I was doing it by myself.

And you know the best part? We’ve barely even scratched the surface of what we’re capable of together. I can’t wait to see what the next 9 years and the 9 years after that bring for us. And we are an us. We are individuals, yes, with individual tastes and personalities and dreams, but we are only as successful as the other is.

So happy anniversary, baby (even though this isn’t the actual day we were legally married) and thanks for everything.