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Announcement: THE BLACKLIST

I'm pleased to announce the Great Deadline Project: a novel based on the TV show THE BLACKLIST.

The novel is for Titan Books , and we even have a cover!

The novel is due to my editor in June, and publication is tentatively set for November, 2016.  Watch here for more details!


How I Found a Husband

Maybe I should write a book on this . . .

After I got divorced, my life was unabashedly difficult.  I was raising three special needs sons completely on my own.  I was separated by time and distance from nearly all my friends.  I was working two jobs (including some crushing writing deadlines) and trying desperately to clear up a divorce-created pile of debt.  It was a harsh time.

Eventually, however, things stabilized.  Even the deadlines eased.  I was able to take stock and think about where I wanted my life to go.  A big question was, did I want to be single?

I had already thought about this a number of times, but earlier my life was so dizzyingly chaotic, the thought of adding another person to it made me physically ill.  Now that I had solved a number of pressing problems and settled my life down, I had more room to maneuver, and I came to the conclusion that I didn't want to be single.  Sasha had already moved out.  Aran would follow suit in just a couple more years, with Maksim shortly after that.  I didn't want to be alone for twenty or thirty years after they left.

So I would have to find someone.  The question was, how?  I'm not naturally outgoing.  My job requires it, but that's my job, not me.  I'm don't strike up acquaintances easily, and I find it excruciating to talk to strangers.

Compounded was the fact that I was a man looking for another man.  Straight people have all kinds of venues for romance.  Straight people can make runs at each other without worrying about someone being mortally offended, and their choices are vast and varied.  The gay community, especially where I lived, is rather smaller, and LGBT people don't wear tattoos on their foreheads to tell you who they are.  This was also before same-sex marriage was legal, and I wasn't widely out, for fear of repercussions at my job.

I realized there was another obstacle in my way: my own house.  I looked around my house, my bedroom, my bathroom, and realized there was no space for another person.  My entire room and bathroom were filled with my stuff, and where would another person fit?

This was a mind-set thing, I realized.  Creating space in my physical life would create space in my psychological life, and allow me to find someone more easily.

I cleared out my room.  I rearranged my furniture so that half the room was empty, ready for someone else.  I emptied out a chunk of my closet for the same reason.  I created space in my bathroom.  There!

Then I made a list of characteristics a partner had to have.  There was an ABSOLUTE MUST column and a WOULD BE NICE column and a NO WAY column.  (Basically, the person had to be at the top of Maslow's hierarchy.)  I made a commitment to stick to that list, no matter what.

And then I decided to try on-line dating.  I went to a couple of different sites and danced around with their free versions, then said to myself, "Either you're looking or you arent," so I bought a full membership to one site.

One guy I talked to (by email) was so shy that he wouldn't even tell me what town he lived in until the third email.  I dropped him.

Another guy still lived with his parents and they didn't know he was gay.  I went on one date with him, and had to pick him up three blocks away from his house and drop him off the same distance away.  He kept checking his phone to see if his family was texting or calling.  "I told them I'm going for a walk," he said, "but they might get suspicious, so I have to have an excuse ready."  I dropped him.

And then this guy named Darwin McClary contacted me.  A message led to emails.  Emails led to texts.  Texts led to phone calls.  Phone calls led to a date, then more dates, then Wednesdays and weekends at each other houses, and then a house together, and then a legal wedding.

I credit the commitment.  I had to create space in my life, physically and pschologically.  I had to commit to finding someone.  I had to stick to the list.  I also got very, very lucky.  It still makes me shake just a little to think how lucky I got with Darwin.  I can't imagine life without him now.


Crafting a Scene

You learned it in ninth grade English, right?  Almost every short story starts with rising action, moves through complications, reaches a climax, and ends with falling action.  Novels work the same way.

And so should your scenes.

Many times, new authors make the mistake of just writing a scene with the protagonist doing stuff related to the main plot of a subplot.  But every scene really should be carefully constructed, structured to follow the short story model.  Even if the protagonist is just talking a walk to think about something.

Every scene in your novel should be a little short story.  The scene starts off with something happening, or trying to happen. The protagonist has a little problem to solve--Fred needs to get information from someone, Ivy needs to break into a house, Jake has to get permission from his mother to go to the park.

The scene continues with the protagonist trying to solve the problem--Fred talks to the person, Ivy tries the front door, Jake finds his Mommy on the couch.

Then we have complications--the person tells Fred to screw off, the door is locked, Mommy is clearly in a bad mood.

The protagonist should then try to solve the problem at least twice and FAIL both times.  If you're really good, the problem will get worse--the person takes a punch at Fred, a police car drives down the block toward Ivy, Mommy snarls at Jake that he has to clean all three bathrooms in the house by himself before he can go anywhere.

And then the protagonist finds an interesting way to solve the problem at the last moment.  Fred dodges the punch and tells the other guy his mom is named Martha, too, so they become friends and talk for hours.  Ivy dives into the bushes and finds an open basement window before the cops see her.  Jake pays his sister to help him clean the bathrooms so he can go to the park.

And then the next scene begins.


The Great Card Party

A few years ago, I realized I was in danger of isolation.  I had moved away from Ypsilanti up to Wherever, which meant most of my friends were a long drive away.  My only social outlet was my kids and my writers group, in fact.  Wonderful as they were, the boys didn't meet all my social needs, and the writers group was (is) a professional group first and a social group second.  I needed more friends.  I needed new friends.

As it happens, one of the teachers at Nameless High had been asking me to come to the poker game she and her husband ran every month or so.  She'd been asking me for quite some time, but by bad luck, a conflict came up each time they had a game.  I finally told myself that I had a good chance here to make some new friends at an event tailor-made for a semi-introvert (the game gives you something to do and to talk about with strangers).  So I made sure to attend the next game.  There, I made some friends.  I became a regular at the games and we became better friends.  Later, the poker game was the first social event Darwin and I attended as a couple.

When Darwin and I bought our current house, we realized the place was made for entertaining, and we joined the rotation of poker game hosting.  This last Saturday was our turn, and off we went!

The morning was spent cleaning. The afternoon was spent at the store buying food.  We ultimately had enough people to start two tables, so we set up both the breakfast nook table and the dining room table as play area.  Four new packs of cards waited.  Michelle (my teacher friend) and her husband Steve brought their poker chip collection, and people started to arrive.

The poker group is a great mix of people from different ages and backgrounds. Our youngest is 20, and our oldest is . . . well, never mind the numbers.  Grandparent age, certainly.  The players' attitude is the right mix of competetiveness and jollity. We follow strict poker rules, but want to have fun, and we do.  Jokes fly as fast as the cards.  The losers always drop out gracefully, usually with a "Well, shoot," and "Well played" is a common remark.

The hosts always keep light drinks on hand, but no one indulges much--it would interfere with the game.  Caffeine (soda) is the ambrosia of choice.  The losers often hang about to socialize in the living room.  It's a pleasant way to spend an evening.

The big winner this time was Christian, a member of the writers group.  This was his first time at the game, as it happened, and we joked about letting him win so he'd keep coming back.

Around midnight, the last people wandered away.  Darwin and I tidied up.  It was an excellent evening with friends.


Cover Reveal and Giveaway for un/FAIR!

Great news from my publisher Book9 and Tantrum Books!  And I really do love the cover:

Today Steven Harper and Month9Books are revealing the cover and first chapter for un/FAIR which releases September 6, 2016! Check out the gorgeous cover and enter to be one of the first readers to receive an eGalley!!

Here’s a quick introduction from the author.

When the doctor said my son Aran was autistic, my world turned upside-down.  I spent
years playing special games with him to help him understand the world better.  But in the process, I learned to understand him.  While I struggled to pull him into our world, he quietly pulled me into his.  This book came out of that.

People always ask authors--including me--why I got a certain scene on the cover or why I didn't put a particular character on the front.  The truth is, authors almost never draw the book covers.  We get a picture of it by email, and it's always a surprise, like getting an early birthday present.  Sometimes the present is a wool sweater you want to wad into a ball and stuff under the bed.  Sometimes the present is a toy you didn't know you wanted until you got it.  The cover for un/FAIR was the latter.  Ryan looks very much like I imagined him in my head, and the salamanders creeping down the top make it clear this isn't a happy fairy book.  The artist even snuck in a reference to the Fibonacci sequence!  I loved getting this one.

On to the cover reveal!
Read more...Collapse )

a Rafflecopter giveaway

The Hunger for Information

A while ago, I was invited to speak at the Kent District Library's annual writer's conference.  I have a number of regular workshops and speeches ready to go, so I ran them past the coordinator, and she asked me to speak on how to submit a manuscript for publication.

I arrived at the conference without incident, plugged my computer into the local projection system for my visual aids while Ashley the coordinator introduced me, and I spoke.

I'm a good speaker--twenty-one years in the classroom will do that to you--but I've found this particular workshop always garners a huge response.  You would think that with the Internet as a resource, new writers would have an easy time figuring out how to do query letters and agent hunts and such.  But I'm finding the opposite is true.  There's TOO MUCH information on the Internet about this kind of thing, and a lot of it is contradictory.  As a result, people feel more confident about the process if they can actually talk to someone who's in the field AND who isn't trying to sell them anything.  (I have no vested interested either way if the attendees get the process right or not, so I'm trustworthy.)

After the session was over, I was deluged with people who had further questions, and I willingly answered as best I could.  Some of the questions I got included:

"How do you deal with being rejected?"  It's never fun.  I always coped by saying, "Well, what does SHE know?" and sending the manuscript to another market within 24 hours.  And by griping about it to family and friends.  After a while, you develop a callus about it.  It always hurts at least a little, but you get used to dealing with it.  Develop a support system for dealing with the stress, whether it's smacking a pillow or petting your cat or throwing rocks at a tree so you can let the unhappiness out, but never let the fear of rejection stop you from submitting something.  Rejection WILL happen, but it has never killed anyone.

"Is there a central web site or database where I can find someone to edit my book before I submit it?"  I don't know of one off-hand, but I myself know a handful of people who edit books for a fee.  It isn't hard to find them, really, but make sure you know what you're getting.  If someone promises you'll get published if you just do as they say, walk away.  Ask what books the person has edited and see if they've been published by the Big Six publishing houses.  If they haven't, walk away.  Ask for references from previous clients and ask those clients if they were happy.  If they weren't, walk away.  Make sure you get in writing what the editor will do for you.  Most look for stylistic changes that will strengthen the book, along with plot points, character development ideas, and so on.  Copyediting (catching continuity and typos) is usually not included, and isn't worth paying for anyway.  (If the book gets published, you'll get a copyeditor for free.)  Editors usually charge by the hour or by the page.  Make sure this is money you can afford to spend without getting anything back.

"You said you can't submit a full manuscript to more than one editor at a time.  If an editor sits on a manuscript for too long and you send a letter telling them to cancel the submission, and you still don't hear from them, how do you know they deleted or tossed your manuscript?"  You don't.  But if you sell the piece to someone else, and then the slow editor says she wants to buy the piece, too, you respond with a copy of the cancelation email and a short note apologizing that the story is no longer available.  However, you would be happy to send the editor something else . . .

It's strange how the information highway has created a hunger for information.


Tearing Them Away

The weather Sunday was stunning--mid 70s, perfect sunny sky, spring birds singing.

"Let's go for a bike ride on the nature trail," I said to Darwin.

"Mmm, I don't know.  I was going to do some stuff.  Maybe later?"

"Look," I said, "I've been writing all morning, and I need a break.  I'm going on a ride, and I'd really like it if you came with me."

"Isn't it cold outside?" he hedged.  "Maybe I should put on a sweatshirt."

After much shuffling about and one more cup of coffee, Darwin finally allowed that he was ready to go.  I announced to Maksim that he was coming, too.

"No!" he howled.  "I'm not going anywhere!"

"You're not staying inside on the computer all day when it's this nice out," I pointed out.  "You're coming."

"You can't make me!  You can't--"

"I'm turning off the the wifi," I interrupted.

Pause.  "Fine."

And lo, it came to pass that we climbed into the truck with the bikes in back and headed off.

"Can we stop at Subway or something first?" Darwin interjected.  "Get some sandwiches to take with us?"

I narrowed my eyes.  "You didn't eat breakfast."

"No," he said in a small voice.

"It's way after lunchtime," I said.  "Why didn't you--never mind."

And so we stopped at Subway to get Darwin a sandwich.

At last we arrived at the nature trail, unloaded the bikes, and headed off.  The perfect weather continued, and the sun was warm without being hot in a sky clear as weater.  We biked through wetlands and woods.  We stopped to watch two ganders compete to mate with a goose.  There was much honking, beating of wings, flaring of feathers, and stretching of necks.  Eventually, one gander literally drove the other away and flew back to claim the goose.

"I can hear what the goose is saying," I said.  " 'I don't want EITHER of you.  Buzz off!"

"Yeah," Maksim said.  "She's a lesbian."

"Lesbigoose," I said.  "Or the male will find out she's trans-gander."

Darwin, who was drinking from his bottle at that point, snarfed his water.

A bit later, Maksim spotted a water snake swimming merrily along, and later we saw a duck's nest, a muskrat swimming into his lodge, a turtle sunning itself on a log, and birds galore.

"I don't want to go home," Darwin said at one point.

Even Maksim allowed that the bike ride was a good idea.

The riding trail was relatively crowded because of the weather.  At last we got off the bikes to explore some of the walking trails, where bicycles aren't allowed, and spent considerable time ambling up and down dirt pathways.  Even back there we kept running into scores of people.  Lots and lots and lots of them had dogs, and I'm pleased to report that all the ones we encountered were well-behaved, and--even better--their owners cleaned up after them.

One dad was out with his three little girls, who shouted and squealed with little kid delight or squeamishness whenever they spotted an animal.  We stood at a wooden platform that overlooked a swampy pool with them while Darwin ate his sandwich.  I took a bite from it and yelped.  There was so much salt and pepper on it, my eyes teared up.

"That's what you get for stealing my sandwich," Darwin said.

At long last, we took up the bikes again and pedalled back to the truck.  We did make one more stop on the way home, though, to get ice cream. (!)


The Marriage Bed

No, nothing like =that.=

When I was single, I woke up in the morning and the bedclothes were barely disburbed.  I got up, twitched the sheet and coverlet back into place, punched the pillow, and it was done.  Five seconds, tops.

Then I married Darwin.

Holy man!

It bugs Darwin when the sheet is tucked in at the bottom of the bed, so he always pulls the sheet free of the mattress.  Darwin is also a close sleeper--he wants to sleep close to me.  If I migrate away from him, he moves closer.  (It's very cute.)  Also, about halfway through the night, he usually gets overheated and kicks the covers off entirely, or bunches them between us.  So when dawn arrives, the bed is a total wreck. Making it involves stripping it of everything but the bottom sheet, settling and straightening the top sheet, spreading the quilt, and finally placing the pillows.  Sheesh!

Of course, most days I have to get up and leave before Darwin's even awake, so =he= makes the bed.  :)


Saints and Assholes

The New York Times published a story about the way teachers are portrayed in the media.  They call it "Incompetent or Inspiring."  I call it "Saints and Assholes."


It's true, and I've written about it before.  Teachers in movies or on television are always saints who use sheer charisma to pull their students out of poverty, or assholes who live to punish their students (or who sleep through class or are too stupid to live).  Usually teachers in poor districts are saints and suburban teachers are assholes.

The saints don't actually teach.  Some of them try, but run up against a wall of glowering hatred from their students, who humiliate them.  But once the teacher realizes the students are just misguided or unhappy, he hunkers down, talks to them in their language, stops teaching entirely, and just, you know, relates to them.  All instruction ends.  He becomes, instead, a leader who shows them what life is all about, and their lives magically change.

The assholes don't teach, either.  They hate students and love watching them squirm.  They deliberately humiliate the class (especially the protagonist).  They pounce on wrong answers.  They speak without contractions and with ten-dollar words (and refer to their students as Mister or Miss).  Or they totally ignore the class.  They sleep.  They don't know the subject.  They let the students run roughshod.  They try to talk to the students with teenage slang but get it embarrassingly wrong.  The fall for obvious pranks.

All professions suffer from bad portrayals in the media.  But teachers, for some reasons, get an extreme.


Gay and Married: Dividing Up the Chores

Our society is becoming more progressive, but the majority of households still divide up the chores by gender.  Women do the majority of housework and men do the majority of maintenance.  (Yeah, yeah, yeah--your husband is a great cook and he helps with the dishes.  Great.  Does he vacuum, change the sheets, clean the toilets, do the laundry, mop the floors, dust the knickknacks, sort the video games, do the grocery shopping, and scrub out the refrigerator once a month?  Fewer than one in twenty do.)

So the big question comes up: in a same-sex marriage, who does what?

Theoretically, this happens in het marriages.  Wives and husbands sit down and discuss these things like adults and figure out--

Yeah, I couldn't keep a straight face, either.

Anyway, Darwin and I did have to work this thing out.  Neither of us gravitated toward one particular area based on gender.  However, Darwin doesn't like to cook or do anything much dealing with food, and he's (frankly) awful at grocery shopping because he won't use a list or comparison shop.  I hate anything to do with lawn and garden.  Neither of us much likes household maintenance.

In our house, I'm in charge of food and groceries, partly because Darwin rarely gets home before 7:00 (and if we waited for him to get home and cook, we wouldn't eat until 8:30), and partly because I'm a much better shopper and cook than Darwin.

Maksim and I are in charge of keeping the house clean daily. We decided on this because I have a 10-minute commute and Darwin has a 45-minute commute each way, so it makes more sense.  Darwin, however, handles occasional chores like mopping.

Darwin is in charge of anything outside.  If it's outdoor, I have nothing to do with it.  I don't rake, mow, or shovel.  We got into a couple arguments about this during winter when I asked him to clear the driveway and he wanted to know why I couldn't do it, since I was home all day, too, and I had to remind him that he'd agreed to handle the outdoor everything.

Everyone in the house does their own laundry.  It's easier that way.  You want clean clothes?  There's the machine.

We still get into difficulties with all this.  I get resentful because I do a lot more work around the house than he does, and he hired a lawn service to handle a great deal of the outdoor work.  He gets upset because he feels he works longer hours than I do and handle housework.  Sometimes this is true, especially when his commute is figured in, but when I'm under deadline, I'm working two full-time jobs and trying to handle housework as well.

But usually things work out.



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