The Wisdom of Rocks and Making Time to Create

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Some rocks from  my rock collection. That white rock is from a writing retreat I did in Spain.

I was driving home last night from work thinking of what I’d say in an end-of-the-year blog post. It didn’t take long for me to circle back to early 2017 when I began research for my current work-in-progress, Proxima Five. One of the main characters in the novel is a geologist named Leah Warren. So, first things first, find a geologist to talk to. Plans were laid to meet my friends Darlene and Peggy for dinner at a local restaurant named Sweet T’s. Peggy is a geologist and we share an active love of rocks. We talked over dinner about the geological clock and how slowly it moves. How the youngest rock is tens of thousands of years old. And over the past year as the pace of stories about debacles in our nation’s capital have glutted the daily news cycle I’ve longed for a bit of that geological pace. Wouldn’t it be nice if things just slowed a bit?

But that isn’t exactly where my thoughts ended up on the drive home. Thinking about time came later. What immediately came to mind was the fact that Sweet T’s, a local favorite, is gone. Completely leveled in the Tubbs Fire that raged through Santa Rosa during October. So much happened in 2017. One small crisis after another, culminating with an inferno in October. And this was before the intense fires in southern California later in the year.

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Sweet T’s after the Tubbs Fire of 2017.

Repeatedly during the year, I was grateful to be able to find a respite from reality while writing fiction. However, as I look back, the story of Proxima Five evolved over the last few months, influenced by the reality of our times. A story that began as an examination about what happens when power rules unchecked, became a more nuanced narrative about power dynamics, sex, and culture, about the mechanisms that come to exist in society as a result of those factors.

It’s fortuitous that I would have the opportunity to write Proxima Five. It gives me a place to put thoughts into something constructive. But Proxima Five is an epic shift from my newest book, Love at Cooper’s Creek, due out February 1 by Bold Strokes Books.

LoveAtCooper'sCreekLove at Cooper’s Creek is a meditation on small town America in the Deep South. It’s sweet, hopeful, funny, and heartfelt. The story is partly about running away and at the same time, being found.

“A sense of connection, a sense of belonging washed over Shaw. She looked at Kate who had covered her mouth with her hand. The wet paths of tears were on her cheeks. Shaw didn’t have the language to explain the emotion that crowded her chest. It was as if Charlie had sent her a message of kinship from some other place, some place beyond knowing, beyond words. She couldn’t explain it. The moving monument was like some secret presence of the divine, and in that instant, she knew she’d been loved.” (from Love at Cooper’s Creek)

I guess the moral of this end-of-the-year blog post, if one exists, is that 2017 made me realize how important it is to give ourselves breathing room, breaks from reality to create, in whatever form that takes.

Our studio has a holiday lunch to celebrate the end of the year. As the host of the gathering I always try and have some inspiring quote that I share with the team. This year’s quote was from Mary Oliver and I intend to make it my goal for the New Year. I always tell people, invest in yourself. When I say that I don’t mean financially, I mean, give yourself time.

“The most regretful people on earth are those who felt the call to creative work, who felt their own creative power restive and uprising, and gave to it neither power nor time.” ― Mary Oliver

Happy New Year.

A Time for Vigilance

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Now, more than ever, is the time to show our love for one another, to stand up for common decency wherever we go and to create stories that celebrate our diversity.

Probably anyone who’s reading this blog post is still feeling wounded and in shock two days after the election. I live in California. I’m surrounded by people in shock. We can commiserate together. But I grew up in the Deep South, so I know the same support isn’t there for everyone. Those of us in safe zones have to reach out to those who aren’t. Those of us in safe zones have to speak out for those who can’t.

“A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.” Luke 6:45

I spoke to a family member in Mississippi yesterday who voted for Trump. He assured me that everyone who voted for Trump isn’t racist, that their vote was simply about economics and voting for an outsider. My reply was simple. If Trump isn’t racist then he should stop saying racist things.

I’m working on a memoir project that has required me to have some in-depth conversations with my father about racial bullying that happened in Alabama, in the 1970s when I was growing up. I asked him how a parent explains racism to a kid. I thought he’d have some wise answer for me, but he just said, you can’t. He said that all you can do is set a good example, tell your kids to do the right thing and stand up for those who can’t stand up for themselves.

I keep seeing Facebook posts from people who are unfriending folks who voted for Trump. I think part of why this election took us by surprise is that too many of us insulate ourselves and our social media platforms with people who think just like we do. I’ve tried not to do that, even though some posts make me angry. They are a shocking glimpse sometimes into how people you thought you knew actually think.

I’ve discovered that the folks who make me angry because of hurtful words in their Facebook posts also believe that they’re saying these things in a vacuum. They think they’re only talking to others who agree with them. Most of them are friends who live in the South. When I go home, they seem happy to see me. We have dinner together and I do believe they genuinely like me. I believe we really are friends. And when I join their conversations on Facebook they’ll say that they weren’t talking about me. They were and I’m there to remind them that they do know someone in the LGBT community. Me.

I’ve found that if you jump into one of these conversations with anger it doesn’t work. I usually try to say something that’s rather quiet just to let them know I’m listening. Conversations with people who don’t agree with you are important. Genuine conversation can change minds and help us understand each other. It’s not easy, but it might be the only way.

I was thinking of all of this as I was driving to work this morning. On the way in I stopped at a Starbucks and there were two Latina women in line behind me. The woman closest to me looked visibly upset and was standing pretty far from me. From behind I’m sure I just looked like some random white guy so she probably didn’t want to stand too close. I asked her if I could buy her a coffee. Her face immediately brightened. I think she was shocked. I bought the woman next to her a coffee as well.

You always see that stupid bumper sticker that says practice random acts of kindness. I say let’s make that real.

A pumpkin spiced latte is not going to save the world, but it’s a start.

Now is the time for vigilance, my friends.

Now is the time to show everyone that love is stronger, for real.

The Adventures of Nash Wiley

Today marks the release of the first in a series of fun short stories featuring the likable, comical, perpetually searching, Nash Wiley. Four short stories will be delivered by Bold Strokes Books during the course of the next four months, including today’s release of Death By Cocktail Straw. Each narrative builds on the next until the last story in the series is released in February 2017.

Here’s a brief synopsis of each wild Nash Wiley adventure. Happy reading!

death-by-cocktail-strawDeath By Cocktail Straw
Release Date: November 1, 2016
How did a club night with friends go so off the rails? Nash’s day had started out so well. An adorable barista flirted with her as she picked up her morning espresso, which may have contributed to the distraction that moments later nearly ended in disaster. Nash had used the word “disaster” carelessly not realizing how far the rest of her day would spiral after her tragic morning commute. Picking up girls after midnight in an ER is a clear sign of desperation, right? Unless that girl is the enchanting nurse who keeps coming to her rescue.

one-more-reason-to-leave-orlandoOne More Reason to Leave Orlando
Release Date: December 1, 2016
Nash Wiley, aka: slow learner, discovers that hooking up with your sexy neighbor isn’t such a great idea, especially if you like your apartment and you’d like to keep living there. Having sex with both of your neighbors is an even worse idea, especially if those neighbors happen to be in a relationship… with each other. Threesomes always sounded so exotic and exciting in the abstract. As it turns out the reality of sleeping with two women at the same time is a lot more complicated. But it wasn’t like it was Nash’s idea and when the offer presented itself she found it impossible to say no.

smothered-and-coveredSmothered and Covered
Release Date: January 1, 2017
The last person Nash Wiley expected to bump into over a two a.m. breakfast at Waffle House was her college crush, decked out in a curve-hugging law enforcement uniform. Nash can’t believe her luck when Ms. Crush asks to join her, explaining that she’s just getting off shift. But something seems a little off. It could be the glitter in her eye shadow, or the black lace bra peeking from her barely buttoned uniform shirt, or maybe the exotic dancers who stroll in from the local gentleman’s club and crash their private reunion. Nash isn’t sure she’s still hungry until the waitress takes her order. “How you want those hash browns, hon?” Ms. Crush pins Nash with a sultry gaze and answers for her. “Mmm. I’ve heard she likes hers smothered and covered.”

privacy-glassPrivacy Glass
Release Date: February 1, 2017
As Nash Wiley entered the elegant Savannah Victorian and scanned the room she had one thought: this is one gay wedding that could really get out of hand. Only a lesbian would think it was a good idea to invite so many exes and then let them offer up toasts after drinking way too much white wine. But the evening turns even more surreal when Nash commandeers a stretch limo and Anna Hayes for a late night drive out to the beach and friendship turns into something more. Champagne on ice, seat belts optional and privacy glass a must.

 

The End

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My wife Evelyn took this picture.

I finished the first draft of the manuscript for Crossing The Wide Forever today. Weighing in at just over 67,000 words it’s the longest story I’ve written to date.

There seems to be a moment about seventy-five percent into every book that I have written thus far where the whole thing stalls and I worry that I’ve gone off the rails and have no idea how it’s all going to come together. I lose sleep, I fret, I drive my wife Evelyn crazy recapping scenes in the story. (She says not, but I’m sure I do.)

With a fourth cup of coffee in hand, my writing playlist piping in through noise-cancelling headphones and the lights in my studio dim… I write the next 1,000 words. Because you just have to. You have to push through to the other side.

Four thousand words later I crawl into bed, exhausted, frustrated, and dream about the book. Scenes flash through my mind like I’m watching a movie. And then it happens. Somewhere between asleep and awake, at about four o’clock in the morning the whole thing comes together in my head. I can see it all the way through.

In the dark I get up and go downstairs to scribble all of it down on a giant yellow legal pad. My cat Otis is happy. He finally has somewhere to sit. (Cats and paper, what is that?)

I’ve also noticed that every time I finish a book, the minute I type the words “The end,” I’m euphoric. My head feels lighter. I can finally stop worrying about these characters that I’ve been living with for weeks. I’ve gotten them through to the end and they’re going to be okay.

Everyone gets what they need in the end, except me, because now I’m feeling sad. I begin missing those characters. They have more stories to tell.

I email the acquisitions editor Sandy at Bold Strokes Books and tell her I have a great idea for a sequel. Sandy is always kind in her correspondence, so she promptly replies and gently reminds me sequels don’t sell as well. Sigh.

#TheWritingLife

In a Perfect World

I’ve really struggled this week with my feelings about what happened in Orlando. This whole event felt extra personal because I lived in Orlando during my twenties. Pulse, and other gay clubs, were where I came out. My time in Orlando represents my passage to adulthood in many ways.

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Orlando, circa 1989: At a lakeside picnic with a close friend.

Alexander Chee, writing in the New Republic this week said, “We have always known that the protection we feel in a queer club is illusory.”

That statement finally got to the heart of what I’ve been feeling. When I was twenty-six, gay clubs offered a new world order. I spent all week being closeted for work, family and neighbors. But on Saturday night at the club, finally, freedom. It was as if the community in the club was some utopia where everyone was accepted as fully themselves. To anyone who isn’t gay this probably sounds very strange because you get to be yourself all day every day. But I’m sure those of you who are gay can relate to this. Especially if you came out in the era before Ellen and “Modern Family.” And even still, in some parts of the country where it isn’t safe to be out, gay clubs offer the only respite from the rest of life.

To be victimized, killed, in possibly the one place you feel safe is horrific.

And for those who were wounded, whose families didn’t know until they got a call from the hospital, I feel for them. To be forced out before you’re ready or before you’ve come to terms with it yourself is tough to get through. Not just tough, in some states, impossible. In Florida LGBT citizens don’t have even the most basic protections under the law. You can lose your job just for being gay. The lack of protection leaves LGBT individuals vulnerable. And all these mean-spirited laws camouflaged behind some fear of gender-specific restrooms and who gets to use them are basically throwing gasoline on a smoldering fire of hate targeting the LGBT community.

I’m sick of it. And all the stupid memes about bathrooms and Trump and assault weapons… none of it is funny anymore. If it ever was in the first place.

Democrats, Republicans, even conservatives, have offered prayers to the families of the victims and to the victims themselves. Enough. To the people in positions to actually affect policy changes I say spend a little more time reading the book you’re always hiding behind. Prayer without action is useless.

“Faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”  — James 2:17

If we as a democratic nation cannot protect those among us who are the most vulnerable minorities, then what does that say about us? We are certainly not the nation we arrogantly profess to be to the rest of the world.