Whatever’s After

I was given a prompt to write about my perception of any kind of afterlife. This is probably a meandering mess of a thing, but I came up with this:

A golden city with jasper walls. Agates and sapphires, onyx and chrysolite, and whatever jacinth is.

I remember my first taste of Heaven, from under a down comforter in the middle of winter, snowflakes falling through my window with a backdrop sky so black it rang blue. I was young, borderline manic with an active mind, and so I had trouble sleeping. I’d rest my back against a cabinet set up at the head of my bed, one side of a sliding set of doors moved aside where rested a cassette player.

Classical music. That’s what helped me drift off at night. Elegant birds swimming through my mind to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Two lonesome lovers dancing in a dark, empty ballroom to Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. A yearlong journey of whimsy and growth through Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. The music played at my back, behind my head, through my ears, so gracefully behind the lids of my eyes.

Because of that,because I was such an imaginative child that I pulled things into my dreams, I often found myself also being affected by the books I read. Creepy crawlers terrifying me after the latest Goosebumps novel saw me to bedtime. Magic spells lighting up the sky like fireworks after tearing through whatever fantasy novel I ordered from the school book drive.

So yes, I remember my first taste of Heaven.

Twelve gates of pearl, and streets of gold so clear they may as well be glass. Eternal day that lights the paths of the pure.

My grandmother was a woman of God and wanted to bring me up on a path of righteousness, or – at the very least – general goodness. I was no stranger to prayer, though I struggled at keeping still with closed eyes while someone used their words to speak for me. I worked as a deacon in the church, collecting, counting and cataloging the weekly tithe. Most importantly (to me), I read the Bible nightly. No particular passages, but rather cover to cover (though I would regularly reread the stories that meant the most to me, or that I found particularly compelling). So I remember the winter night I first found myself in the book of Revelations, reading about this New Jerusalem, this city for the chosen loved of God while elsewhere burned a pit of fire. For the unrighteous. For the generally bad.

But in the city, there was no death, no sorrow.  No crying, nor any pain. I dreamed of these things, and this mountain city that was itself a divine temple. I dreamed of the crisp and clear air, and the laughter from within bejeweled walls.

But my fitful sleeping mind would take it further. I dreamed of walking to the cliffside, a dirt path laid out before me, surrounded on either side by snow that gave off no cold. I dreamed of looking down into a deep, green valley, one hand on a singular, twisting tree the rich brown of polished mahogany, capped with leaves of all different colors.

I dreamed that somewhere back behind one of those pearl gates, my always-absent parents were finally always-present and always-patient, waiting for me to return so that we could share just one meal together that didn’t end in yelling.

But I am not dead. And so that taste of Heaven, be it a true and wholesome thing, has yet to reach past the tip of my tongue.

And, undead, I have traveled through these years dipping my fingers into the afterlife whipped cream and licking celestial inevitability from them. I have sampled Sheol and its dead earth, feared the heat of Gehinnom. I have longed for the pleasures awaiting me after my second life and my second death, in olam haba. Or perhaps it would be a seat in the presence of Our Lord and alternatively a great nothingness should I not find the greatness necessary to fill my place beside Him.

In times of pain and anger, I’ve wondered if my struggles would qualify me for a seat in Valhalla should my eternal battle with depression finally trigger an aneurysm. I wondered how lonely the realm of Hel might be if not. Or perhaps it would be the realm of Hades, neglected and unfairly judged brother of Poseidon and Zeus. And after I take that journey across Styx, likely infuriating Charon with questions and observations, would Hades at least allow me the company of Persephone during the long winter months? Not for anything untoward. Just to talk for a while. Just to compare tastes in music. Would Handel be held favorably up to Amphion? Would Chopin be as admired as Orpheus?

These tastes of Heaven and Hell, of Eden and oblivion, of spectral realms and mead-filled halls, these tastes are exotic, they are ancient, they are unclear.

But I am not dead. And so these tastes leave my throat dry and my stomach uncertain of a meal.

Because maybe there is nothing. Maybe my good deeds and my mistakes and my pleasures and my sins will not be held accountable against a feather at the end of my life. Perhaps my heart is in no danger of being consumed by Ammit, forever damning me and barring my escape into the sun-lit fields of Aaru. Maybe my heart is destined only to be consumed by worms and I’m left leaving only memories for those still living behind me.

That would be a shame. That would be a shame, because it means I would have no chance to connect again with you. To see the way your right cheek dimples when you smile, and the way your eyes dart that same direction when you laugh. It would mean I never get to say sorry. It would mean I never get to tell you I love you every day until the very last star shudders one last flicker of light and the very last molecule stops its steady movement, freezing us in a picture we never got to take. One last still-frame before turning the lights off on the universe.

Or maybe we’ll resurrect. Resurrection is an option, too. And I feel I’d be a dung beetle, but maybe I’d turn into a caterpillar and you would be one too, and we could make a cocoon somewhere nice and safe and warm, melt ourselves down into a gooey pile of memories and love, reinvent ourselves as two beautiful butterflies and find each other again. Somewhere without nets. Somewhere without birds.

Maybe that will be our heaven, our Heaven, our Nevaeh (because after reading that Bible cover to cover, I read it back again): a cyclical chance to love and be loved again.

Because I can tell you one thing for sure: I don’t need to have died to know that life here without you is already Hell.

Read in Denver

There are crazy kinds of love. The lava-hot kind of love that steals breath and rubberizes knees. The kind that rushes in like a bullet train and turns common sense into metaphors (just like this). It’s the kind of love that can start at the sight of a sign in the middle of the sidewalk at nearly four in the morning.

You know, Auburn and Gabby’s kind of love.

Read in Denver is the story of small-town, increasingly introverted Auburn Parks, a moderately successful romance novelist who desperately wants to publish science-fiction. It’s the story of Gabriella Baker, an energetic but private artist strick through with wanderlust, searching for her place in the world by taking life day by day. This is the story of two hearts colliding, two minds exciting, that crazy kind of love.

And everything that goes with it.”

About a year ago, I got the idea for Read in Denver while writing an emotional farewell letter to someone I cared deeply about. Around ten months ago, unable to shake it, I set aside the science fiction novel I was working on and set about trying my hand at my first-ever long form love story. I wouldn’t call it a romance, though there are romantic details. It’s more simply just a story about art and love and messiness.

I’ve said to people before that this the most honest piece of fiction I’ve ever put to paper, and so it was difficult for me to push through and finish it. I invested a lot of real things that were said or done, overheard and felt, injecting a fictional narrative with what I hope comes across as authenticity.

I messed with narrative structure. I inserted a couple odd touches and made sure to play with callbacks and mirrors. I put together a soundtrack with and few suggestions but no real directions on how and when to listen to it.

In the end, I’m not sure what I got. Less a book, perhaps, and more an experience. Hopefully a good one.

You can find it for the Nook here: Read in Denver

You can find it for the Kindle here: Read in Denver
Or you can order paperback copies here: Read in Denver
If you decide to take a chance on the book, I genuinely hope you enjoy it. If you enjoy it, I hope you share it with your loved ones. Cheers.

Read in Denver Disclaimer

‚ÄčI’ve been working on a love story. Inevitable, I suppose, because I’m really good at falling into it. It’s also an eensy bit ridiculous, because once I fall, I never really know what to do. Since the book’s release is only a few weeks out, and since it has (so far) been met with a ton of support and enthusiasm, I thought you might at least like to know where my fourth novel came from.

First, as I said, this is a story about love but it isn’t a PG one. There is swearing and awkwardness and the occasional sex because love is messy and intimate and frustrating. If you can’t handle the word “fuck”, this book won’t be for you.

Secondly, I’ve said that this love story, this book I’ve never planned on writing, is probably the most honest piece of fiction I’ve ever written. The idea came after I met someone that I thought, given the right time, place or circumstances, had all the potential in the world to be The One. Maybe not. I’m crazy and get attached way too easily and too intensely, but for a while, things were easy in a way I didn’t know they could be and I felt ways about myself that I had long forgotten I could feel.

It didn’t last, of course. It wasn’t anybody’s fault, unless Timing and Distance want to swing by and have a word. She and I are still friends, but we’re distant now, texting each other every once in a while instead of calling each other twice a day.

I wrote a letter that was supposed to act as closure. I have a hard time processing emotions, especially negative ones, and I tend to try and cut things off completely when I think I’m going to hit a dark place. The letter was a positive one. It was all my thoughts and feelings about this woman, about how grateful I was to have met her, and how much she had given back to me. How I would always be around, and that if I ever wrote of her, it would always be fondly. It was a letter I wanted to surprise her with. Tucked into a book for her to find on the plane, with the envelope labeled so that she would wait to read it once she had reached her destination.

And I thought, “Read in Denver”? That would make for a fucking GREAT title, and my mind ran with it and sort of developed this largely unrelated fictional outline.

That woman and I spent one last night together. I don’t want to say it was passionless; we stayed prim and proper but we were both overflowing with emotion. There was red velvet wine. Green apple sake. I had tried to make it a romantic thing, this last meeting between us, or at least something that would be remembered. Something that counted.

I didn’t get to sneak that letter into a book. It was Christmas, her visit, and she had become full up with gifts and purchases. So I pulled that letter out and I read it to her in person. She slid over into my arms while I did, and she fell asleep with her head on my chest and a smile on her face.

We got separated in the night, and I got pretty drunk on what was left of the sake, and I sat and I thought and I hurt and I watched the rise and fall of her chest and I knew that I would never forget it once she had walked out of my front door for the last time. In the morning we shared one last, long embrace and one last, final kiss.

I set about to write a book. Not for her. Not about her. Absolutely because of her, because of the things I felt about her, the things she made me feel about myself, and the way she reminded me how much I wanted to write.

But I found as I was writing it that she wasn’t the only person to inspire the novel. There’s a woman I counted as a muse, who was my best friend for two years and, when I had a bipolar breakdown, who dropped me from her life 200% and hasn’t spoken to me since. But she inspired me more than anyone. She was my best friend. And she said one of the most devastating things anyone has ever said to me, and that I ABSOLUTELY had to find a way to include: “You’re in love with love; you’re not in love with me.”

There’s also an artist from the south, another muse, an astonishing painter I met on Twitter who – in correspondence since – just struck all the right chords and followed all the same roads when it came to how I view love and life and art. She is a huge influence on Gabriella’s character.

In the end, Read in Denver is fictional. The characters are fictional. The plot is fictional. But there are things that are said, and scenes that happen, and relationships that exist that were said, and did happen, and do exist. Just about every character in the book has a soul formed from the existence of a real person. All these things mean the world to me, and if I’m going to write a story about love, I think it needs to be born out of the varying loves that I feel and have felt.

Will that mixture work? Is the book going to be earnest and genuine or will it come off overeager, sappy and forced? I have no idea. Maybe I’m a shitty writer with lofty ideas.

But don’t think of this book as any measure of autobiographical (it couldn’t possibly be fucking further than that), and don’t try to guess which parts are born of reality and which are from my weird brain. Just take it, please, as the story it is, and know 100% of it is born from the heart.

Read in Denver will (hopefully, fingers crossed, knock on wood) be on sale for the Kindle and Nook on August 15, 2016.

The Time and the Thought

I don’t know how to use Tumblr, really. I go on, I follow some pages I like (usually art and poetry), and that’s about it. Most of my original stuttering is posted to Facebook, Twitter, and/or Instagram. A few nights back, I was browsing Tumblr, though, when someone simply asked people to message them what time it was and what we were thinking about. I was in a mood, so I obliged:

“It’s 1AM here. There is the remnant of a rum and coke in front of me and a filled reinforcement sitting just behind it, biding its time, waiting its turn.

What am I thinking about? I’m thinking about how erratic my emotions are. How quickly and deeply I fall in love and when it fails, how harshly I hurt and how desperately I try to move on to the next person to make me feel valued and handsome and sexual and creative.

I’m thinking about a woman who was so sweet and so brilliant and so beautiful, and how something as seemingly trivial as distance has left a chasm between us now. It’s difficult to be intimate and then go back to being friends when whatever spark is between two people erupts into a full-blown electrocution.

I’m thinking about how I’m dissatisfied with my job and how I wish my writing paid the bills. How I wish someone important would take a chance on what I know is good, what thousands of people have enjoyed and what I have no idea how to market.

I’m thinking about love and isolation and how the snow glitters under the street light and how I wish I could battle the cold by pulling someone close into my ribs.

I’m thinking about life and death and how I’m terrified of both, and how the first is still so beautiful and the latter so definitive, and how they hold each other’s hand like strained but dedicated lovers.

I’m thinking I wish I had more people I could talk to that might understand. Instead, I have this dying rum and coke, and its twin I’ll murder after.”

The Six Year Shadow

I was 21 years old when I moved to Los Angeles and I believed I had the world at my fingertips. It didn’t matter that I moved down with a couple of friends with one unreliable car between us, or that none of us had jobs lined up or a place to live, that none of us knew anyone in a city of almost 4 million people, that none of us had a ton of money lined up. I believed I could work it out, and I did, for a lot longer than I had any right to. I had dreams of success, of being some kind of actor/writer phenom. Instead, I was taking $20-30 and using it buy two weeks worth of canned food from the dollar store.

I fell in love down there, deeply. I was too scared to say it first. She let it slip one night, sitting on a pool table in a bar whose name I can’t remember and we paused for a moment. I asked her if she meant it. She said she did, and maybe she lied or maybe she thought she did at the time, or maybe she really did, but whatever the case, that “Yeah” opened the floodgates for me. This woman took me in for the holidays. Both of my friends moved away and I was alone in L.A. with my job, my co-worker friends and this woman I adored.

We weren’t great for each other sometimes. We were perfect for each other other times. I didn’t realize at the time that I had emotional and mental issues that would roll through me like waves and because of that, I didn’t know how to prepare or cope with it. I got angry easily, spiteful, distrusting. I stressed and overthought everything. I was scared and far from home with hardly any money, no car, and the beautiful woman I was with that dudes often hit on right in front of me… I panicked.

And she wasn’t emotionally there all the time. I don’t think she would even understand how to deal with some of the things I was going through. I went into that relationship with a lot of baggage neither of us knew about and we handled it and communication with each other poorly a lot of the time. Goddammit if we didn’t stick up for and support each other a lot of the time, too. There was love there, but I wasn’t prepared to handle it properly.

I broke up with her to focus on me and fix my financial woes by coming back to Alaska for four months. I was trying to give us distance. What it did was hurt her and render our relationship unreconcilable. Because I was so desperate to fix things and get her back, I gradually lost my mind and found ways to sabotage everything. I lost my job, all of my money, I had to move from the place I lived, from the whole state. I lost a lot of close friends who, to this day, have not spoken to me since. And of course I lost her and her respect.

Deservedly. I committed a crime at work, unrelated to everyone and totally self-serving. I got caught, I admitted everything immediately, I paid back more than double the value of what I took, and I lost everything in return and I was fine with that. I own my mistakes. Whatever disorders I’m diagnosed with don’t give me a free pass to act like an asshole. Nobody was more pissed off or hated me for betraying their trust or throwing the life I was building away more than I hated myself.

So I moved to Seattle at the lowest point in my life I had ever been, and this one situation kept playing out in my mind. See, my girlfriend was going to college for social work, which is amazing and noble as all hell. College wasn’t in my future. I was a hair’s breadth away from going to Reno for a while, to be a History or an English teacher, but ultimately I wanted to MAKE IT. I was going to be a star, a famous actor or a famous poet or a famous novelist. And one night – I can’t recall if we were drunk, or arguing, or both – she told me that she didn’t believe that if I never went to college that I could ever be somebody. That I was basically destined to fail at life.

And I fucked my life up! Like, not even half a year after that, I lost my goddamn mind and I ruined everything I possibly could, doing things I would never normally do, acting in ways that would normally horrify me. I spent a year of literal blood, sweat and tears building up something great and with so much promise, and I shit on it.

So I’m in Seattle with almost nothing to my name. Starting from scratch again. Heartbroken, ashamed, self-loathing and again in a large city in which I knew four people. I felt hopeless, both in that I had no hope and that there was no hope for me to rise up from the ashes, or whatever. Then I took a trip up to Alaska to see my best friend’s newborn baby, and while I was up there, I met someone who would change my life.

When I returned to Seattle, I began to pursue writing seriously. I was going to write a novel and it was going to be good. It was going to sell. I was going to show my ex that I could be somebody on my own merit and that I, personally, didn’t need to spend $60,000 for someone to tell me how to string words together in an exciting fashion.

I wrote that motherfucker in six months. I’ve never worked harder and more consistently on something before or since, and when I self-published it, it got good reviews. People loved to read it. I pumped out new installments as fast as I could because people wanted to talk to me about. People were excited about it.

Cut to five years later. My books still sell here and there. They don’t pay my bills. They haven’t taken off. I work a job I hate to pay for a life I kind of shuffle through. I’m not where I want to be. My goals are still high. I’m not rich. My books aren’t on shelves. I don’t have a publishing deal. I can pack my life up into the same two suitcases I took with me to Los Angeles six years ago.

I never went to college and I haven’t – to my standards – become somebody.

Then I had a really, really weird day.

It started with me waking up from a nightmare, one of those hyper-realistic ones you could swear actually happened, where I was at some pool party¬† (complete with DJ, natch) and I ran into a woman I was deeply in love – I fall in love a lot; it’s a mess – and the guy she left me for when my grandfather passed. Now, I hadn’t seen or spoken to her in at least a year, and she hadn’t been with him for even longer than that. The event had happened three years previous and she had left me with barely a word or a bat of the eye. Due to how realistic the dream was, though, I woke up feeling crushed all over again.

Two hours later, out of nowhere, she messages me. We have a conversation that started off tense because honestly, it gave me anxiety to even hear from her, but gradually it grew into an honest discussion about how hurt I was and what she was going through back then and it struck me that she basically did what I had done. And then she apologized profusely to me, the only thing I really needed to hear to finally, finally get closure and find solid ground with her again. We agreed distance was still probably best for the foreseeable future, but that if either of us needed someone to reach out to, we could always, now, again, finally, reach out to each other.

That was a weight, man. Three years of grief and hurt alleviated with an “I’m so sorry.”

And then two hours after that, my ex from Los Angeles messaged me. I haven’t spoken to her in five years, outside of a message about some stuff I left behind or a Happy Hanukkah. She tells me she’s thought long and hard about it, and would understand if I said no, but she wanted help writing something that would help her get into a college program she needed.

The first thing I thought was that it was fucking hilarious. Now my writing is good enough? Now you trust that I know enough about this thing I sort of assed myself into doing?

But I said “Absolutely. Of course I’ll help you.” I’m proud of her. I still have so much love and gratitude for the things she did for me and the great moments we did have. I want to do whatever I can to help her get where she wants to be. I had spent years trying to find a way to be friends with her again that I felt she would accept or that I deserved, so it meant a lot to me that she would reach out. We talked a little over Thanksgiving, because it was six years ago from then that I went to her home for the first time and met her family, and it was immediately after that we decided to date. “I remember it like it was yesterday,” she said. “We had so much fun.”

Yeah. We did.

I’ve been feeling a little heartbroken lately, so I’ve gone back to drinking a little too much and bleeding my emotions out a little too dramatically and clinging to someone I desperately wanted to work towards a potential future with, so yesterday morning, I woke up, still drunk from a bad Sunday night, and called that person and told them I wanted them to have a safe trip to Japan. She flew out today. I’m hoping that’ll keep me from texting her in the wee hours of the morning compliments she’s probably tired of hearing. We didn’t talk long, probably for the best, and she told me to try and get some more sleep before I had to go into work.

I couldn’t sleep. It wasn’t coming to me, so in the fading haze of intoxication, I decided I finally, genuinely needed to be honest about something. I messaged my ex.

I told her about finally going in this year and being diagnosed with a few disorders that made me feel things erratically and severely and how for a long time, I had just assumed I would occasionally get fed up with things and I would lash out. I told her that six years ago, I fell in love with her and her family for what they gave me and that when she reached out to me, I didn’t do it out of a delusion that we’d get back together or out of infatuation, but because I still cared and wanted to help. But I wanted her to know something.

“If you never go to college, I don’t believe you’ll ever be somebody.” To hear that from someone whose opinion I cared so much about and whose affection and acceptance I craved more than anything during a time where I was broke and had nothing and hardly anyone else… it broke me. And when I didn’t go and when I fucked so many things up, I just kept telling myself, “Maybe she was right. Maybe I won’t be.”

And as I was typing this out to her, to let her know that one sentence has been this haunting, horrible weight on me for so long, something finally clicked in my head…

I’ve spent six years trying to be somebody because I thought she thought I couldn’t be, when I should have been doing it because I thought I could be. When I first moved down, I thought I could do anything. When it became increasingly difficult and I became increasingly emotional, I began to have doubts. When she said that to me, I stopped believing in myself entirely.

I was trying to prove her wrong these last years. I wasn’t trying to prove to myself that I was always right about what I was capable of.

She wrote back to me, aghast. She apologized profusely and told me she hoped I could forgive her words. “When I get angry, I try to hurt whoever I think is hurting me.” She told me she had never thought I was lesser, that she was proud of me when she found I had written books, and a few other complimentary things. “Why do you think I’d even consider you to read my personal statement? Because if anyone knew… it would be you.”

The world is yours if you want it. Not because someone said you can’t have it. I lost sight of that a long time ago, and I’ve felt like a shadow of myself since.

Fourteen hours later, I realized something else: I’ve been insecure about my writing because I feel like a fraud when I do it. Kerouac, Hemingway, Bukowski, Thompson… they wrote about love, life, loss, lust, pain and so much else with authority. Love is this. Heartbreak is that. They wrote with conviction and years later, their quotes are passed around social media and hung up on walls and in offices because the things they wrote resonate with people.

But there was always something holding me back. I think it’s because when I posted it on Facebook, my friends would take the piss out of it. They would see me as being over emotional or narcissistic or dramatic. Who the fuck am I to put myself in the footsteps of those men? Who the fuck am I to know what life is supposed to be about? What it is? When people have known me for years, they’ve created an image of who I am, and I’m no authority on anything to them.

In the same way that someone who tells a few jokes every other week on a stage wouldn’t consider themselves a comedian, I felt like writing a few poems, a few introspective posts, it didn’t make me a writer.

But why not? I remember the fucking mountain of private messages I got after my post about having been raped. I remember the messages I got when I wrote about being suicidally depressed. The people who have shared my poems. The people who knew my family members and reached out to tell me what I wrote meant to them, or because it reminded them of their own families. I remember the messages from people who were dealing with loss, or heartbreak, or budding love.

You know what I remembered? Finally remembered? I’m not fucking writing for people who don’t see me as a writer. I’m writing to put how I see and feel things out there for people to know they aren’t alone in their feelings. I’m doing it to reach out to others the way the writing greats once reached and continue to reach out to me.

If nobody else will say it, I’m going to. I have a voice that I’ve kept hushed and shyly uttered for too long. And frankly? I’m not good at anything else, except for eating and occasionally sex if their standards are low, so I better get goddamn good at this.

I need to do this because I believe I can. And I’m starting to again.

The Story Man

I can’t recall the origin of the nickname. I think I may have pompously referred to myself as such in a rum-fueled haze of confidence, high on one of my rare book sales, and a few people clung to it. It’s a decent moniker, if only in it’s accuracy: I tell stories – it’s my passion, in fact – and I am a man. I tell stories about life and death, killers and thieves, flower girls and friendships. I write poetry for women who have never existed, telling a story about a romance that will never be.

Lately, I’ve been telling a lot of stories about myself. There’s a conceit in that, an assumptive arrogance that anything about my life or me is worth reading about. It’s a promise I feel I often break, when I write a thousand circuitous words or more about my feelings or my soul-searching that usually ends the same way it begins: that I am listless in life, confused about my purpose, and generally dissatisfied with my output in virtually every way.

Yet I can’t stop. If I tried, I think I’d go mad. Well, madder.

I’ve never seen a blank piece of paper I haven’t wanted to write on. Something about the emptiness of it, the void, screams out to me to be filled, and when I do, when I write, it’s not as simple as “the ink of my blood flowing” as this bucking beast that’s been slamming against the cage in my gut finally finds itself a refuge to cavort to its heart’s content.

Of the page itself, it appears not as a canvas, not quite, but a gate. A window to a multiverse, endless possibilities to pull from and when I find the one I want (something with science and fiction, perhaps, or a poem about homesickness, or an echo of my own heart), a flash comes from behind my eyes and a dageurreotype is left in the form of words.

The page is a lover, of sorts, one whose every inch I want to explore and tease and fill to the brim with passion. Sometimes the process is more aggressive. Sometimes we argue. Sometimes I’m left on the edge of tears. The page listens, and I endeavor to explain.

I do that with anecdotes. Stories. Tales.

I remember several years ago, a six-issue comic book mini-series came out called Taleweaver. It was a story about warring factions that had the addition of a protagonist who could change reality by writing what he wanted to happen in the form of a story. It was a concept that never had much sustainability, but I thought it was cool as hell anyway. And “taleweaver”. That sounds awesome. I could be a taleweaver.

The Story Man, though? That sounds so… well, I get two visuals out of it. On one hand, it feels ominous. The Story Man feels like a character ripped straight from King or Koontz. A mysterious figure with unclear intentions. Is he a monster? The last sword of God? A being of grayness, indifferent to the concept of morality? Stephen, if you write it, I will read it.

I also see, however, the old man at the beginning of Margaret Weiss and Tracy Hickman’s Dragons of Autumn Twilight. Though he becomes a major character further on in the book, we’re introduced to him as a traveling storyteller, scraping the floor with his chair as he takes his place by the fire in a quiet tavern. It’s he that sets the group on their adventure. He puts things in motion.

Do I do that? Lord, I kind of hope not. Here’s where I tell you not to take advice from someone who fucks up as often as I do.

And here’s where you realize if you listen to me, you’ve already taken my advice. Gotcha, sucker.

You know, part of me appreciates that the mistakes I’ve made, and the rash decisions and the ill-advised traveling, all of that has led to a number of stories. While I wouldn’t mind being rich and successful and having those upbeat kinds of memories to write about, the things I’ve done and gone through have allowed me to have a deeper – if still flawed – understanding of myself and the world and some of the people in it. I get the grime, I get the shattered windows and ripped photographs and discarded shoes. I also get the solitary rose growing through the cracks, the letter from a loved one fading from repeated readings, the stuffed animal sewn back together countless times.

I try to write my stories – fiction and nonfiction – so that they’re full of imagery and emotion. I want my readers to see what I see, to feel what I feel, so that they can understand me and maybe see a part of the world that might normally be hidden from them. I don’t know if I’m successful at that, but it also serves to get it out of me, get it onto the page I love, and trap it there.

If it stays in me too long, I get to thinking too much. Case in point, last night I stumbled across a picture of someone’s text post. It was a woman talking about how she was raising her daughter alone and how she would make something up about the father who left her behind. This got me thinking about my biological father, who left, and my adopted father who was unable to take care of me due to his own addictions.

I’ve talked about this at length before, but I’m going to do so again for a second. See, I came across Danny’s Song again. My adopted dad is a huge Kenny Loggins fan, and he loved this song (and I’m Alright, but that’s neither here nor there) in particular. I like the song, and Loggins, but it makes me think about what must have been going through his head in the 80s. In love and married to my mom, ready to raise and love me as his own. The idyllic life. And I think about how that all crashed and burned. How the marriage fell apart because of substance abuse and rampant blame. How he fled the state and I didn’t see him for two years or talk to him for a year and a half. How this perfect, picturesque family lifestyle has turned into being shut away in prison in different states and cutting almost all contact from his family and all contact from me.

Of course that leads me to my biological father, who couldn’t be bothered to even pay for the paternity test, so few fucks did he give about possibly having a son.

I am grateful for the grandfather I got, the one he raised as a third son and fourth child, though I shared no blood ties to him. I will always be grateful.

Even so, for as many years pass and as often as I tell myself and others, I still wind back around at dad and abandonment issues.

It’s sort of a weird topic to bring up in an article about being The Story Man (capital t, naturally), but I’ve been doing some soul-searching lately, and I haven’t been liking some of what I’m seeing.

Am I the man my grandfather wanted me to be? The one he felt was worth raising from the age of five even though he had put in his dues? Or was John right in running away from me before he could get to know me? Am I just a broken man like Rick who is set to have his idea of a happy family wrecked by my decisions and weakness?

I think about it a lot, because that feeling of duality drives me in a lot of different directions. The bulk of my stories seem to be rooted in the complex and very intense emotions that I’m absolutely convinced came from a loving but somewhat traumatic and confusing childhood.

Of those three options, I know which one I try most to be. I try to be a good guy. I try to build up and inspire others (the only way I know how, for the most part, being through stories), but I know specters of the other two haunt my life daily. I won’t even touch Terry, who I wrote about in Santa Wears a Black Hat, and who I learned a lot from – both good and bad – but whom I also spend far less time obsessing about.

So try as I might to be someone worth raising, someone worth being around, someone worth loving, I’m not always strong enough, I feel, to pull it off. Writing those thoughts out, the pain I’m feeling, the love I feel for beautiful things, my love of love, my longing for people that make me feel alive, my desire to strengthen connections with people and my anxiety that I did something wrong or am horribly deficient when that connection seems shaky… writing it out is the only way, the only *healthy* way I can keep my knees from buckling.

Sometimes that manifests itself in imaginary worlds, hard and beautiful and varyingly interesting places I’ll never be able to see; or characters who embody different aspects of myself. Sometimes it will be in fictional love letters, poetry that struggles to capture the romance I see and feel in the currents of the wind and the flight of autumn leaves, or whatever.

Sometimes it’s just me getting shit out. Telling stories, because stories are what I’m left with. The arrows in my quiver, the sword in my sheath, the A-4 KU Skyhawk on my aircraft carrier…. this metaphor got away from me.

I arrive in Montana on Saturday. I suspect I’ll have more stories pretty soon.

“To be alive
To be alive: not just the carcass
But the spark.
That’s crudely put, but…
If we’re not supposed to dance,
Why all this music?”

-Gregory Orr

The Convergence Trilogy

Three and a half years and almost 512,000 words later, I’ve finally finished my first trilogy. Well, a trilogy in five parts, anyway.

I was living in Redmond, Washington at the time, deeply depressed and trying to come back from the worst time of my life. I wasn’t just broke, I was depressed. I had been fired from my job and narrowly avoided jail time because of some stupid, stupid choices. I lost half of my friends. I had to move out of state (California) and start over from scratch, sleeping on my friend’s couch. Things weren’t great.

I flew up to Alaska for a week to see my best friend’s baby son right after he was born and found myself out bar-hopping that weekend to say hey to people I wasn’t friends with in high school like things had changed after graduation. I found myself walking the streets by myself, mind clear and taking in the way the streetlights bounced off of the snow with the kind of focus only the truly, deeply lonely have.

It was February and it was cold, so I ducked into The Anchor, a now-closed sports bar, to warm up and maybe grab a drink. The dance floor was packed and clumps of friends hung on each other, taking pictures they could or would only share a fraction of, screeching at each other in decibels only be heard by dogs and drunk white girls.

I wanted a clump, too, but I was clumpless. Dejected, I decided maybe I’d be better off finding a drink somewhere else and started to turn away. Through the crowd came one of the most beautiful women I’ve ever seen and she headed straight for me. She embraced me and told me that she believed in me and that she thought I was a talented writer from the stuff I had put up on Myspace/Facebook.

Now let’s back up a second. The first time I had ever seen this woman was seven years prior to our bar conversation. I was a sophomore in high school and I was in my United States History class. It was towards the end of the year and she was graduating, so she poked her head through the window from outside to say goodbye to my teacher and I was immediately taken by her. I made it a mission to say hi to her the next time I saw her and introduce myself. Unfortunately for me, there wasn’t another opportunity before the school year ended.

I would see her around town from time to time after that but I figured it would be weird to stop her out of nowhere just to say hi, me being this kid she’s never seen before. What would I say? How would I say it? I felt weird for even wanting to do it, honestly. But then a day came that she popped up as a mutual friend on MySpace and I said, “Fuck it” and sent her a friend request. To my surprise, she accepted.

I still didn’t say hello.

For over a year we were friends online, our only communication being my sending her a message for the holidays as I did to all of my friends, and her appreciative response.

So it surprised me that she would recognize me in person at The Anchor. It surprised me even more that she would take the time to come and say hello and that this relative stranger, one who I had admired and been intimidated by for years, would tell me that she believed in me, that she would tell me she felt my writing had promise. I was surprised she even paid attention.

I’m not big on God or fate or destiny, but I do like playing the long odds. I like the idea of luck, good and bad, of high and small percentages, of chance. I don’t know what the chances were of my being in town that week, deciding to go out, deciding to go downtown, deciding to duck into the same bar she was in at the same time she happened my way, for her to recognize me or choose the words she did, but I needed it bad. That one interaction changed things for me in a big way.

I went back to Washington a renewed and inspired man. She and I started a dialogue via email that would lead to our having a long, strong friendship. I started to write.

I dug out a few shoddy chapters I had written the summer before that had been inspired by a dream (not something that happens to me often, as it turns out). A lot of what I had already done was garbage, but there was some stuff worth salvaging there.

For the next six months, I hammered out Waypoint, my first novel and the first part of what would become the Convergence trilogy. The words came quickly and easily. I had developed some severe bronchitis around that time, too, so a large part of that could have been because of the codeine cough syrup I had been prescribed and was using semi-irresponsibly.

Along the way, I picked up a couple friends who volunteered and agreed to read and edit as I wrote (my friend Ben and his wife, Karina, who I didn’t know too well at the time, which actually worked out perfectly because she was very blunt about her opinions). At the end of those six months, Waypoint was finished and I found myself new problems to have: I was terrified to release it.

What if it sucked? What if nobody liked it? What if they made fun of it? What if my friend from the bar was wrong about my writing? What if I was a fool for wanting to pursue writing as a career (this last question still plagues me)?

Ben and Karina insisted that I was wrong, that the book was good stuff, that it would all be fine. Gradually, I gave in. Tentatively, I self-published and released the book online. To my astonishment and relief, the general consensus has been that it is, in fact, a good book. The reception was so positive and the enthusiasm so high in regards to discussing the characters, the world they lived in, and the plot twisting through it, that I decided to split the second and third novels into two halves so I could get my readers more material faster.

Death Worth Living For came next, and it was around this time that I gained arguably my two biggest fans: a pair of traveling jewelry salespeople who would host a couple events a year at the jewelry store I worked in. They would read as they traveled, one of them speaking my words aloud while the other drove. When we saw each other, they would pelt me with questions about the characters and their motivations and actions. They would theorize what would happen next (often, they were wrong. Sometimes, they would give me an idea I hadn’t considered before).

I was most of the way through As the Earth Trembled Part One when my grandparents – for all intent and purpose my parents, as they had adopted and raised me since I was five – both passed away and the woman I loved left me for someone else.

I was able to finish and release that half of the book, but it took a long time for me to get my confidence, my inspiration and my wits back. Longer than I’d like to admit, but I was able to work through it eventually and yesterday I released As the Earth Trembled Part Two for the Kindle, finishing the Convergence trilogy (in five parts) once and for all.

Three and a half years. Over half a million words. I’ve sold almost three thousand copies of the books, which is not a lot, really, but I’ve paid a bill or two and bought a drink or ten with what I’ve made. I’ve accrued some four and five star reviews that I’m proud of, and though I got some separation anxiety regarding my characters as I finished up, it’s so rewarding to see other people, friends and strangers both, grow equally as invested in them.

If you, my faithful, wonderful readers, would like to check out the books yourselves, refer them to a friend who might like them, or get them for someone as a gift, here’s where you can find them:

For the Kindle:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

In paperback:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

For the Nook:
Waypoint
Death Worth Living For Part One
Death Worth Living For Part Two
As the Earth Trembles Part One
As the Earth Trembles Part Two

And if you’ve read these books so far, if you’ve taken a chance on my work – whether you enjoyed it or not – or suggested them to friends or family, or even lent a copy to somebody: thank you so much. Your support means the absolute world to me. I may write to get the ideas out of my head, but it’s an audience that gives those ideas their first breath of life.

As for me, I’m on to the next one.