For some time now, I’ve been writing about and teasing my new Celtic urban fantasy, The Chalice War. The series is part thriller, part comedy, part myth, part urban fantasy, part mystery. It is set in our modern world — all over it, in fact: book I takes place in the U.S.; book II shifts the action to Australia, and book III is set in Ireland — but the series also draws heavily on Celtic lore. It is unlike anything I’ve written before. Each volume was a ton of fun to write, and will be, I hope, just as much fun to read. I love these books and I am incredibly excited about their upcoming release.
The first book, The Chalice War: Stone, should be out from Bell Bridge Books in February 2023. The second book, The Chalice War: Cauldron, will follow within a month or two, and the trilogy’s finale, The Chalice War: Sword, will drop not too long after that.
Today, I am delighted to share with you the incredible jacket art for book I, which was created by my brilliant editor and publisher, Debra Dixon. Drumroll please . . . .
Unless you’ve been in a food coma for the last two weeks, or have been so mesmerized by the constant influx of sales emails coming from every vendor under the sun that you can think of nothing else, you probably know that professional soccer’s World Cup is currently being played in Qatar. And unless you’re one of the relatively few soccer fans in the U.S., you probably don’t care.
I am here to tell you that you should.
Soccer — football, as it is known most everywhere else on the globe — is far and away the most popular sport in the world. It’s not close. Those who study these things estimate that association football has 3.5 BILLION fans worldwide. For the sake of comparison, American football and rugby, as played in Europe, Oceania, and South Africa, have a combined fandom of about 410 MILLION. (The closest sports to soccer are cricket, at 2.5 billion fans, and basketball, at 2.2 billion.)
As popular as association football is around the world, that’s how unpopular it is in the United States, at least as measured in television and in-person viewership. Yes, people, particularly young people, love to play it. But that growing passion has yet to translate into viewership fandom on the levels of American football, basketball, baseball, or even hockey. And there are reasons for this.
Soccer is a game of athleticism, of speed, of power and grace and mind-boggling skill. It is also a game of nuance and subtlety, of creativity and strategy, of patience and scarcity. In most matches, goals come at a premium. Look at the final results from a typical week in England’s Premier League, of which Nancy and I are devoted fans, and you’ll see lots of 1-0, 2-1, 1-1, 0-0 scores. 3-0 is a blowout. 4-2 constitutes an offensive explosion.
Americans tend to like sports with lots of offense and/or lots of violence. It makes sense that American football, which has plenty of both, is our most popular sport. Baseball, once our National Pastime, had too little of either to remain the nation’s favorite. It’s no coincidence that in the last quarter century, baseball was at its most popular during the Steroid Era, when home runs were flying out of stadiums in record numbers.
As it happens, I still love baseball, and I love soccer for many of the same reasons. And here’s why. Every soccer match is like a pitchers’ duel in baseball. A single goal — like a single run — can change everything. Two can put a match beyond reach. The tension is intense and magical, the demand for near perfection is utterly compelling.
Why are goals so rare? It’s not as though the goal itself is small — quite the opposite. A standard goal is 24 feet wide and eight feet high. The pitch (soccer-speak for the field) is longer and wider than an American football field. The playing surface is large enough and the teams small enough (eleven per side) to allow for wide-ranging play. There is plenty of room for offense. So why isn’t there more?
The key to understanding soccer is the offside rule. At it’s simplest, the rule is this: At the time a pass is kicked, the intended receiver of the pass has to have at least one defender (in addition to the goalie) between themselves and the goal. In other words, an offensive player can’t just hang out by the goal waiting for a pass from a teammate. They have to make certain at least one defender is positioned nearer the goal. Until the pass is kicked. As soon as the ball is airborne, they can sprint to the goal. The timing of the player’s run has to be perfect — late enough to remain onside, early enough to beat the defender to the ball.
My description of the offside rule doesn’t do justice to its intricacy and its impact on every element of the game. There are so many permutations of what can be allowed and what can’t — its complexity feeds the drama of each match. The rule needs to be seen in action, again and again, under match conditions, to be understood and appreciated fully.
The other element of the game that I like is the lack of violence. Don’t get me wrong: Soccer matches can be rough. Challenges are physical and occur at speed. But there are penalties — free kicks — for unnecessary or gratuitous contact, and there are sanctions for repeated offenses. A player deemed to have made a dangerous challenge or too many rough plays is given a yellow card. A second yellow card means ejection from the game without replacement. The team will finish the game with only ten players instead of eleven. And a red card, given for excessively rough or reckless play, means automatic ejection, again, without replacement.
Sadly, the best American male athletes tend to go into American football, basketball, or baseball. That’s where the money is professionally, and so that’s where high school and college athletes try to make their reputations. Female athletes don’t have football or baseball as an option, but they do have soccer and basketball (both my daughters played varsity soccer in high school). In those sports, on the women’s side, the U.S. consistently fields the finest national teams in the world.
Maybe soccer isn’t for you. That’s fine, of course. But maybe you haven’t yet given it a chance. As it happens, the finest male players in the world are on display right now in the World Cup. Watch a match or two. Yes, the games might end without much scoring, but I guarantee you’ll be impressed with the level of play, the incredible athleticism (position players run an average of 7-10 miles per game!!), and the passion of those fans lucky enough to attend the games. And perhaps you’ll find yourself drawn to what many refer to as “the beautiful game.”
The past couple of years, usually on the Monday of this calendar week, I have written about Thanksgiving — last year a catalogue of all the things for which I’m thankful (the list still holds), and the year before, ahead of the country’s first Covid Thanksgiving, a rambling remembrance of holidays past that still makes me laugh when I read it over. For obvious reasons, I didn’t feel like writing such a post for this past Monday. But with the holiday upon, I thought I would try again.
I don’t know how to approach a Thanksgiving post this year without repeating myself from those previous posts, and yet here I am making the attempt. And maybe repetition in this context isn’t the worst thing in the world. The things for which I am thankful year in and year out remain remarkably consistent — boring for a blog, but gratifying in every other way. My marriage, my children, my extended family and friends and fans, my career, and, of course, the good fortune of having a home, food in our pantry, health care access, and so many other blessings that too many people lack.
As I have said before, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday, in part because it forces me to take stock, to set aside the petty grievances that too often cloud my mood, and recognize that in the important ways, despite real and serious problems in our lives, my loved ones and I are doing okay. We live, it often seems, at 75 mph, the world blurring past as we try to complete our work, take care of our chores, see to our obligations. Even when we are “on vacation” or taking a bit of time off, we try to squeeze in so much that the relaxed times feel rushed.
To me, Thanksgiving is a time to slow down, to focus on the now, on those things that matter most. It is a time to inhale deeply and say, “Right now, in this moment, I am grateful for _______.” The things we fret about, the things that inconvenience and nettle and worse — they’ll still be there the day after Thanksgiving (in fact, they’ll probably be on special…). They’re not going anywhere. So why not push them away for a while and accentuate the positive? This from a confirmed, life-long pessimist.
In any case, I will hop down off the soapbox now. And I will share with you a brief list of very important people, outside my circle of friends and family, who have made an enormous difference in my life this year. Their mention here is small thanks for all they have done for me and my family.
1. I am thankful for my therapist, a woman named Rebecca, who has been absolutely incredible to work with. She is insightful, gentle, funny. Best of all she gets me and understands when to push me and when to let me stumble into truths on my own. I have learned so much from our time working together, and feel better equipped than I have ever been to deal with the uncertainties of this crazy world.
2. I am thankful for my editor, the marvelous Debra Dixon, who has been an amazing creative partner, mentor, critic, and booster. She is terrific with artwork. She did the gorgeous covers for the Radiants books, and she has done a fabulous job with the first book of the The Chalice War, the Celtic urban fantasy about which I’ve told you all so much. You’ll see a reveal of the cover not too long from now.
3. My older daughter’s oncologist, who shall remain nameless so as to protect my daughter’s privacy, is just terrific. He is compassionate, honest, brilliant, devoted to our child and her battle with cancer, and willing to communicate with us whenever we have the need (so long as our daughter has given her okay, of course). We know he can’t perform miracles, but he has our daughter’s complete trust, respect, and affection, and that is all we can ask.
I wish these three a glorious Thanksgiving, and I wish the same to all of you. May your day be filled with laughter, joy, and the companionship of people you love. And may the year to come be filled with blessings large and small.
I had fully intended to write a fairly typical Thanksgiving week post — things I’m thankful for, what the holiday means to me, etc.
I can’t now. Because once again, America is killing its own. This weekend, a quick perusal of any news site (at least any news site that publishes real news) turned up a shooting on the campus of the University of New Mexico, a continuing investigation into the shootings at the University of Virginia, and, of course, the horrific mass shooting at Club Q, a nightclub in Colorado Springs that was a gathering place for that city’s LGBTQ community.
I have written before about the mind-numbing frequency of shootings in this country. For today, I’ll refrain from doing so again. Guns are part of the American psychosis. They plague our society and, I am afraid, always will. The Second Amendment to our Constitution, a relic of a different time, which should long ago have gone the way of the document’s limits on enfranchisement to white men, has somehow become more sacrosanct than protections of free speech and the prohibition against state-established religion. It is a vestigial amendment, as useless as T-Rex’s forearms. And yet it remains.
The massacre at Club Q raises different, deeper concerns. This was (another) hate crime aimed at the gay-queer-trans community. Such crimes have been on the rise this year as demagogues on the right have aimed poisonous rhetoric and destructive policy initiatives at all in the community, but especially trans youth, their parents, and their doctors. Too many politicians — among them Ron DeSantis, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Lauren Boebert, and the entire Tennessee Republican party— are trying to make a name for themselves in conservative circles by banning books that deal with LBGTQ themes, passing “Don’t-Say-Gay” laws, filling the political airwaves with falsehoods and ugly accusations, making it seem that any who are different, who live their lives outside the heteronormative assumptions of a bygone era, are enemies of our republic and a danger to our children.
The attacks are sick. They are founded on lies and inaccurate stereotypes. And make no mistake, they are directly responsible for the rise in violence aimed at the queer community, including this weekend’s shooting.
How do we reconcile this sort of tragedy with a national day devoted to giving thanks for our blessings? How do we look beyond the carnage, the grief, the fear, the devastating psychological toll this sort of terrorism has on entire communities, so that we can find our way to gratitude and compassion and love? I’m asking, truly. Because I don’t see it.
I’m thankful my children and other loved ones are safe? Of course I am. But that feels thin, self-serving, a bar set so low as to be meaningless. I’m thankful to live in a free country, a land that often trumpets its exceptionalism, its boundless virtues, its capacity for charity and resilience? Again, yes, I suppose I would rather live here than anywhere else. But the calculus gets harder with each shooting, with each act of brutal intolerance. What good is liberty if huge swaths of our populace live with constant, oppressive fear? What has happened to the promise of America when nearly two hundred and fifty years after the Declaration of Independence, so many of our citizens are still subject to physical violence and psychological brutality simply because they don’t conform to what a few narrow-minded fools consider “normal?”
Thanksgiving at its best — and it has long been my favorite holiday — is about taking stock, slowing down to acknowledge, in private or publicly, those people and things for which we are most grateful. It is a time for family and friendship, for sharing and giving. And, yes, for good food and laughter around the dining room table.
Murder, bloodshed, terror, hate, bigotry — these have no place in our celebrations. Today, I don’t feel thankful. It doesn’t feel right to catalogue all the ways in which I am so very fortunate, though I know I ought to do so. Everything I eat tastes like dust and ash.
In days to come, we will hear more about the man who did this. He’ll be called “troubled” and his actions will be condemned. We’ll hear the inevitable pablum from the right — “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.”
But few will speak the obvious hard truths. This man may be sick, but so is our society. His actions may be those of a madman, but they are the natural outgrowth not only of mental illness, but also of cold, cruel political calculation. And today’s thoughts and prayers will be rendered meaningless by tomorrow’s soundbites.
Last week, Nancy and I were traveling for her work, and we had the opportunity to spend a day and a half in New York City. We had dinners with our older daughter, we attended some university functions, Nancy had finance meetings, and I had part of a day to myself.
As I have mentioned here recently, I am trying to figure out where to go with my writing. (And allow me to take this opportunity to thank those of you who weighed in with opinions about what project I should take on next. Many of you want to see continuations of existing series — Thieftaker was the most popular request, followed by Fearsson and Radiants. Not surprisingly, the new project I mentioned as a possible choice received little love. The unknown is bound to attract less notice. But the most heartening element of the responses I received was the repeated assurance that you would welcome and read whatever I choose to tackle going forward. And for that, I am grateful beyond words.)
As I continue to grapple with this decision, I thought I might find inspiration in art, and so, on a bright, crisp Monday morning in New York City, I walked north along Fifth Avenue to 83rd Street and the grand entrance to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I didn’t know precisely what I sought in the museum, but I trusted the instinct that drove me there. Much the way our bodies sometime crave certain types of food — salty snacks, or protein rich foods — so I believe our brains can crave input of a specific type. I felt a strong need to look at the beauty of creative endeavor.
Specifically, I wanted to see the work of the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. Degas, Manet, Morisot, Cezanne, Pissarro, Cassatt, Van Gogh, Gauguin, and my favorite, Claude Monet. As a historian (and a camera bug), I find the development of Impressionism (in the latter third of the nineteenth century) fascinating. It coincided with the invention and popularization of photography. Suddenly, artists were freed from the need to create images that were accurate and lifelike. A photograph could do that. Instead, artists could begin to experiment with color, with light and shadow, with texture, with the self-conscious use of brushstroke and palette knife.
Monet was fascinated in particular with the way light and color changed from hour to hour, day to day, season to season. He painted series after series, experimenting with images of the same subject matter painted at dawn and dusk and midday. Haystacks on farms, poplar trees in the French countryside, water lilies, the Houses of Parliament and Charing Cross Bridge in London, and two of my favorite series: the façade of the Cathedral at Rouen, and the Japanese footbridge and pond at his home in Giverny.
Seeing these paintings last week filled me with joy, with a sense of calm and contentment. It was glorious. I lingered in the museum for hours longer than I had intended to.
But what does this have to do with writing? Why would it warrant discussion in a Professional Wednesday post?
Honestly, I am still trying to figure out the answers to those questions. But I think it comes down to this: Creativity demands that we reexamine those things we have taken for granted, the things we have accepted as routine. The daily dance of light across the front to a building, the shape and forms we see each day. But creativity also asks that, on occasion, we rethink everything about our art. Imagine having been trained as a classical artist in the mid-nineteenth century, only to have every assumption about visual art overturned by the invention of a light-capturing box.
In the course of my lifetime (and I’m not THAT old . . .), we have sent spacecraft beyond the pull of earth’s gravity and out to the edges of our solar system. We have created lenses capable of peering through space and time to the very beginnings of our universe. We have replaced the rotary phones that were wired into our homes with untethered devices that take pictures, monitor our finances, store our music, and handle computational tasks that used to challenge machines so big they needed to be housed in warehouse-sized spaces.
We have seen the impossible become consumer-ready, the fantastical turned mundane. And as storytellers, we have had to stretch to come up with ideas that will surprise and captivate and satisfy. That stretch doesn’t necessarily imply pursuit of the increasingly outlandish. Rather, I would argue, it has forced us to reconsider simplicity, to infuse the familiar with qualities that make us marvel or recoil.
And as I search for my next spark of inspiration, I find myself wondering what will be for me the literary equivalent of watching color and shadow transform a garden pond and the reflections of a footbridge. Once upon a time, I worried that I would run out of ideas for stories, that I would complete a series, only to discover that it was the last one, that my creative well had run dry. Now, as I approach the big Six-Oh, my fear is that I will run out of time before I have completed all the tales I wish to write. I’m don’t worry about failing to find a new idea; I worry about choosing the wrong one and wasting time on something I don’t love.
Late in his life, Monet began to lose his sight. And still he worked, learning to create images of power and beauty and drama despite seeing color and form with less clarity. Creativity finds a way. Inspiration carries us past obstacles both physical and emotional.
Maybe, ultimately, that was the reminder I needed when I stepped into the Met. I still don’t know what I’ll be writing next. I do know that the challenges in my life have not gone away and won’t anytime soon. But I am a creator, and I still crave inspiration. So, I will consider, and I will settle on a project, and I will share with you the stories that stir my passions.
This time last week, I was lamenting the what I saw as inevitable advances by anti-democratic forces in this year’s midterm elections. Yes, I was worried my party would take a drubbing, but more, I feared elections in Arizona, Nevada, Pennsylvania, and elsewhere might put in power election deniers, people more wedded to party and certain personalities than to the founding principles of our republic.
What a difference one week can make.
Incredibly, miraculously, astoundingly, this year’s midterms turned out to be a reaffirmation of America’s commitment to democracy and those aforementioned founding principles. Yes, Democrats are poised to lose control of the House of Representatives, though only by five seats or fewer. Republicans might — might — get to 221 seats (leaving Democrats with 214). But I think it’s more likely they’ll have 220 or 219, which would constitute a razor thin majority, one of the smallest in the last century. Actually, I just looked it up. It would be the smallest majority since the 65th Congress of 1917-1919. It would likely be a recipe for infighting, and for repeated failures and embarrassments for new Speaker Kevin McCarthy and his buddies.
The Senate remains in Democratic hands. Remarkably, incredibly, astoundingly, miraculously. By the time the Georgia runoff is done, Democrats might well have 51 seats, a PICKUP of one. Now this assumes that Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) and/or Kyrsten Sinema (D-Arizona) won’t jump ship and switch parties to swing the majority to the Republicans. But I don’t believe either is likely to do so. Certainly Manchin won’t do that before the Georgia runoff. If the Democrats win in Georgia, he won’t switch at all. And Sinema has to be looking at fellow Arizona Democrat Mark Kelly’s reelection victory, at the Arizona Governor’s race, which Democrat Katie Hobbs currently leads, and also at other down-ballot races. Being a true Democrat in today’s Arizona has proven to be a pretty good thing electorally speaking. Moreover, as a Republican she would absolutely face a right-wing primary challenge. She would likely lose her seat months before the general election. I believe it’s more likely that over the next two years, her Senate voting will trend leftward — slowly, cautiously, but inexorably.
The most important results from Tuesday night, though, had far less to do with Congress, and far more to do with the sanctity of America elections. ALL the MAGA loonies who were running for Secretary of State positions in key battleground states lost. Every one. Including the biggest loony of all, Jim Marchant in Nevada. And with the temporary exception of Kari “Wackadoodle” Lake in Arizona, all the election deniers running for governor in key battleground states also lost. And Lake is trailing and may be on the verge of being declared the loser in her race.
Make no mistake, this election was a repudiation of a soiled Republican brand. It was a rejection of election denying. It was an endorsement of free and fair elections. And, by the way, it was also an expression of outrage at the overturning of Roe v Wade, the 1973 ruling that for nearly fifty years provided national legal protection for women’s reproductive freedom. Constitutional bans on abortion were defeated at the polls in the ruby-red states of Kentucky and Montana. Constitutional guarantees of abortion rights passed in California, Michigan, and Vermont. Opponents of the right to choose had a very, very bad night. Indeed, early evidence suggests that young voters, especially young women, were motivated to vote this year to an extent rarely seen in midterm elections, their activism fueled by outrage over the Supreme Court’s reversal of Roe as well as by opposition to anti-democratic candidates.
Most of all, last week’s election serves as a reminder that a certain former President is NOT the most powerful force in American politics. He is the loudest certainly, the most dangerous beyond any doubt. But he is weak, driven by ego and pique more than by any true political skill or insight. He is a drag on the Republican party. He is a has-been.
Already he is tearing his party apart from within, attacking both Florida Governor RonDeSantis and Virginia governor Glenn Youngkin, who have emerged as his chief rivals for the 2024 Republican nomination. (He said Youngkin’s name “sounds Chinese” — a quote. I swear to God. And he claimed he sent the FBI to Florida in 2018 to save DeSantis’s flagging gubernatorial campaign, which, if true, would be something worth investigating, to say the least.) The former guy intends to go ahead with an announcement of his 2024 Presidential bid, but now it will be welcomed only by his most rabid supporters.
Across the country, again and again in high profile races, his hand-picked candidates lost. More than anything else, this election was a repudiation of Trumpism. Twice now he has lost the popular vote while running for President, and now twice in midterm elections that were in large part all about him, the Republican party has underperformed. In 2018, the GOP suffered historic losses. And this time, in a midterm that should have provided his party with a bonanza, the country instead gave its votes to the party of an unpopular President who has (through no fault of his own, I should add) presided over high inflation and rising gas prices. The Republicans should have kicked butt this year. They didn’t, and it is largely because of the orange has-been. Everyone knows it. Even Rupert Murdoch is rethinking his support of the man. When a Republican leader has lost Fox News, he has lost everything.
I don’t know what will happen in two years. None of us knows. Two years in politics is like ten lifetimes. But I do know this: Donald Trump’s attempt to elect a state-level MAGA infrastructure that would steal the 2024 election for him has failed utterly.
Am I gloating? Yeah, a little bit. Where Trump is concerned, more than a little bit. But the fucker deserves it.
Back in September 2020, as we lurched toward the Presidential election, I wrote a piece for this blog on the peaceful transfer of power. In it, I warned of the dangerous path followed by the former inhabitant of the White House, who was already sowing doubts about the integrity of the vote and laying the groundwork for his unsuccessful coup attempt in January 2021.
My warnings were well-founded, of course, but I fear I was terribly naïve about how to combat the threat our former president posed. When I wrote the piece, I believed that once he was defeated and removed from office, his pernicious influence on American politics would fade. I was wrong.
Tomorrow is Election Day, and as of this date, a staggering number of Republican candidates at all levels of government have, like the former guy in 2020 (and 2016), refused to promise that they will honor the voting results in their races. To draw upon a turn of phrase used by President Biden in a speech last week, they have decided that they only love this country and its founding principles when they win.
If you will allow me to slip on my historian’s cap for a moment . . . . The most important date in the history of our republic is not July 4, 1776 or October 19, 1781 (the effective end of the War for Independence) or March 9, 1779 (the date on which our new nation started operating under the authority of the Constitution). To my mind, the most important date in our history is March 4, 1801. That was the day on which President John Adams relinquished power to his political rival, Thomas Jefferson, who had defeated him in the election of 1800.
Here is what I wrote in 2020 about that moment in our history:
This acquiescence to the people’s will, this statement of belief in the greater good, turned the ideal of a democratic republic into reality.
Over the past 220 years, our nation has repeated this ritual literally dozens of times. Democratic-Republicans have given way to Whigs, who have given way to Democrats, who have given way to Republicans, who, in turn, have given way once more to Democrats. And so on. The peaceful transfer of power lies at the very heart of our system of government. Declaring and winning independence was important. Creating a foundational document, flawed though it was, that spelled out how our government would work was crucial.
None of it would have meant a thing, however, if in actual practice America’s election losers refused to accept defeat, to acknowledge the legitimate claim to power of America’s election winners.
It was bad enough that a defeated President, driven by ego and pique and an insatiable appetite for affirmation and power, should imperil this foundational imperative of our system of government. But it is truly chilling to see one of our two major parties mimicking his behavior, adopting his model of petulance and self-interest as an across-the-board election strategy. Make no mistake: The future of our nation is under threat.
Our republic has endured for as long as it has because, with very few exceptions (Rutherford B. Hayes, Richard Nixon, and now Donald Trump), our leaders on both sides of the aisle have chosen to abide by the rules as laid out in the Constitution. Yes, politicians cheat. They wage dirty campaigns. They look for every advantage. This has been true for as long as our nation has existed. In the end, though, they have accepted voters as the final arbiters of their electoral fates. As soon as candidates refuse to do this, they expose the fragility and brittleness of our system. If enough politicians on either end of the political spectrum decide the only legitimate outcome of a race is their own victory, the entire system will collapse. Outcomes matter, of course. But the integrity of the process itself is what preserves democratic institutions. Take away that integrity, leave election outcomes to be determined by who can scream “fraud” loudest and longest, and we are doomed.
This is the future today’s GOP is embracing. They have chosen to place themselves and their party over the will of the people, and if they are rewarded for doing so, the American Experiment is over.
Let me be clear: When elections are close, there are going to be recounts. That is part of the process as well. No one disputes that. (It is worth remembering that in 2020 the Trump Campaign demanded and was granted multiple recounts in Georgia, Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin. And while a handful of votes shifted one way or another, not one of these recounts altered the final result.) One can demand a recount and then honor the decision of voters once the process is complete
What we are seeing this year is not the expression of legitimate concerns about close election results. The elections haven’t been held yet. Rather, this is a systematic attempt to sow doubts about the elections ahead of time and thus justify whatever shenanigans they intend to try next. It’s disgusting. It’s immoral and corrupt and corrosive.
There are other issues on voters’ minds this year, obviously. I would argue that the preservation of our republic outweighs all of them. Vote like democracy itself is at stake. Because it is.
With much larger family neighborhoods, not to mention dormitories, only two miles away, in the village proper, the families with kids in our area tend to drive over to town for trick-or-treating. Certainly, that was what we did when our girls were young enough to go out in search of gobs of candy. Nancy and I don’t usually buy candy at all, knowing that whatever we buy we’ll wind up eating ourselves, since no one will be ringing our doorbell. Okay, some years we DO buy candy, knowing that whatever we buy, we’ll wind up eating ourselves . . . .
The larger point remains, though. For us, for many years now, Halloween has been a non-event.
When the girls were little, we used to take them into town, meet up with their friends and their friends’ parents, take a bunch of photos (all of them too cute for words), and then commence the hunt for goodies. We would actually bring a bag or two of candy to supplement what our friends were giving out, so that we wouldn’t be total freeloaders, and while half the parents (sometimes the dads, sometimes the moms) went out walking with the kids, the other half stayed, gave out candy, drank a bit of wine. Those were great evenings. Sadly, I missed out on trick-or-treating as often as I participated. Back then, World Fantasy Convention was held each year on Halloween weekend. If Halloween fell anywhere between a Thursday and a Sunday, chances were I’d be away. Sometimes, if the travel was complicated enough, I missed out on Halloween on other days as well. I considered WFC one of the most important professional events on my calendar — I still do — but looking back, I wish I’d skipped the convention more often than I did. I missed out by not taking my girls door-to-door more than I did.
I grew up in a small suburb, a bedroom community of New York City. From an early age, my parents felt comfortable sending me out with my friends on Halloween night. Before then, I remember my sister, Liz, taking me trick-or-treating. She is older than I am by twelve years, and so by the time I was old enough to go out, she was old enough to have given it up. She was a good sport and always accompanied me for as long as I wanted, for as far as my little legs could carry me. Back then, we young-uns would be armed with two items: a brown paper shopping bag bearing the image of a ghost or a stylized witch or a spooky jack-o-lantern, and a small, orange, slotted cardboard box in which we were to collect pennies for Unicef. A quick internet search tells me that “Trick-or-Treat For Unicef” is still a thing, though these days the boxes have little handles and, yes, QR codes.
I judged the success of the night by the weight and jangle of that orange box, and the weight and sag of that shopping bag. Each year, the latter proved disappointing. Somehow, in the build-up to Halloween, I pictured myself filling my shopping back to the brim, which, of course, would have required a walk lasting days rather than hours, and covering leagues rather than miles. The truth was, I always returned with more candy than I could possibly eat (not that I didn’t make the effort). In one of those old paper shopping bags, candy piled two inches deep was a lot of candy.
My parents, of course, examined and culled my takings. My father loved Mary Janes — peanut butter flavored taffies that always threatened to tear the fillings from his teeth — and Bit-O-Honeys. My mother loved Good and Plenty and anything chocolate (though obviously she didn’t take ALL the chocolate, or anywhere near it). The inspection of our haul post trick-or-treat was, for my siblings and me, a bit like April 15th. We got to keep most of what we brought home, but the powers-that-were took their cut.
Any loose candies, home-packaged candies (like baggies filled with loose candy corn), or homemade treats we threw out. Our parents were not trusting. We threw away apples as well, our fears stoked by urban legends of people slipping razor blades into apples. Raisins we were allowed to keep, but honestly, what kid wants to get boxes of raisins on Halloween?
I remember several of my costumes — baseball player (in a vintage woolen Yankee uniform that I thought was very cool, until I put it on and found it itched like mad), hobo (with burnt cork rubbed on my face to make me appear unshaved), astronaut (this was at the height of the Apollo era, and my helmet “mask” had a tiny little lightbulb that flickered on when I pressed a control at the end of a thin wire that ran from the helmet, down my sleeve, to my hand), ghost (with a freaking scary rubber mask), Charlie Chaplin (I honestly don’t know why; I never was particularly fond of his movies). I think I went as a vampire one year, with those plastic teeth and my hair slicked, but I might be making that up.
All this by way of saying I miss Halloween. I miss the excitement I felt for it as a kid, I miss the anticipation I saw in my own kids as the end of October approached and thoughts turned to candy and costumes. (I remember a pirate and a tiger, a ballerina and a soccer star, a kitty-cat and a scarecrow, a froggy and a princess.) I would love another chance to savor the holiday . . . and I suppose that’s what grandchildren are for. Someday!!
First off, many thanks to those who offered feedback on last week’s post, in which I asked for input regarding what I might work on next. I appreciate your thoughts. The general consensus appears to be that there is no general consensus. Several people did express enthusiasm for more Thieftaker and more Justis Fearsson. A number were also interested in reading more in the Radiants supernatural thriller series, and a few fans from way back were excited to see an edited reissue of the Winds of the Forelands books. Others liked the idea of a new writing How-To as well as the space opera concept. Which is to say, there was at least some support for pretty much everything I’m currently considering, and that’s reassuring.
We are nearing the end of October, which means Halloween is almost here, elections are right around the corner, and NaNoWriMo is about to start. For those unfamiliar with the term, National Novel Writing Month began in November 1999 as a challenge to writers to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The challenge has grown in popularity each year, and now engages literally hundreds of thousands of writers, including kids, in creative writing. NaNoWriMo is also a non-profit that promotes literacy and creativity.
In many ways, NaNo is a positive force in our industry. It fosters community, by bringing together writers of different backgrounds and abilities in a simultaneous effort to be creative on demand. And as I have said in this space again and again, part of being a professional writer is learning how to produce on demand, without “waiting for the muse,” or some such. I have heard many stories of people finally being motivated to write by NaNo, by the communal aspect of the challenge. Knowing others are making the effort at the same time enables some people to write the story that has been burning inside them for so, so long. I think that’s great.
And yet . . . . From the time NaNo first began, I have had some qualms about the concept and the structure. I have written 50,000 words in a month; I’ve done it a couple of times. I know some professionals who write far more than that in 30 days. It can be done, no doubt. And if the challenge and group dynamics of NaNo get your creative juices flowing, more power to you.
But what I remember about those occasional months during which I churned out 50,000 words is that I was unable to sustain the effort. Each time, during the month that followed, I struggled to write half as much. I was burnt out. I know some people have gone on to publish novels they began during a NaNo November. But I wonder how many NaNo participants still have novel fragments of 50,000 words (or 40,000, or 30,000) on their computers, gathering virtual dust. I wonder how many did NaNo only to find themselves unable to sustain the effort beyond the month in question.
As I said, professionals, myself included, can and do write half a novel in a month’s time, but most of us write slower than that. My brother is a visual artist, a painter. And he will occasionally engage in exercises that force him to paint quickly. There is something freeing about turning off the inner critic and just painting fast, to see how an image turns out. Just as there is something freeing about blocking out our inner editor and writing swiftly and in volume. Most of the time, though, my brother’s process looks nothing like that. And I can promise you my writing process — and that of most of my professional colleagues — bears little or no resemblance to NaNo.
Yes, NaNo can jumpstart the creative process for some people, but I would offer this: If instead of trying to write 50,000 words in thirty days, an aspiring writer were to try to write 500 words a day for 100 days, that writer would wind up with the same volume. Yes, it would take more time, but in the snail’s-pace world of publishing the difference between one month and three isn’t so great. Plus, I guarantee you, the 50,000 word manuscript produced over three months will be far, far cleaner than the NaNo manuscript and will require a good deal less editing, thus narrowing the time gap.
Most importantly, while NaNo will leave many writers exhausted and unprepared to follow up and finish the manuscript in question, the 500-word-a-day writer will have developed a habit, a creative routine that is both manageable and sustainable. More than likely, that writer will be able to increase their production over those three months and beyond.
I’m not looking for a fight here, and again, if NaNo works for you, go for it. Enjoy yourself. But if you have considered NaNo, wondering if you might finally kick off a writing career by trying it, I would encourage you to try the slow-and-steady approach instead. As a model, it is much closer to the professional experience than NaNo will ever be and, to my mind, it is more likely to produce a) clean prose, b) a coherent narrative, and c) a completed manuscript.
There is a great scene in the third Indiana Jones movie, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in which Indy (Harrison Ford) and his father (Sean Connery) discuss their relationship aboard a blimp heading out of Nazi Germany. Indy is lamenting his father’s standoffish approach to fatherhood and the fact that they never spoke about much of anything.
To which his father replies, “You left just when you were becoming interesting.”
I was anything but a standoffish dad when my girls were young, and I certainly haven’t become one as they have entered adulthood. (Sometimes, I think, they might wish I was a bit more standoffish, but it’s not in my nature.) That said, I totally relate to the line quoted above.
I write about my girls a lot in this blog. Needless to say, I love them tons and tons, and I savor every opportunity to be with them, to talk to them by phone, even to exchange silly texts in the middle of a busy work week. I talked to Alex just the other night — she called out of the blue, which was lovely. No agenda. No big news good or bad. Just a chance to chat. And Erin was home this weekend for a quick visit. She needed a little Mom and Dad Time, and we were all for that. We had a wonderful time with her.
Parenting, I believe — and I say this as a professional creator — is the most creative, challenging, rewarding thing I do. This has been true since day one and it remains so even as my girls work their way through their twenties. A friend has recently had her first child, and like any older parent, I couldn’t resist dispensing a bit of unsolicited (unwanted? unwelcome?) wisdom. What I told her was fairly simple: Parenting is so much fun. It starts that way, and it keeps getting better. Yes, it’s exhausting and frustrating and just plain hard. We get as much wrong as right, and some of the mistakes haunt us. But while every stage has its peculiar difficulties, each one also has unique rewards that far outweigh anything else.
What I didn’t say, and what no one told me ahead of time, is precisely what Henry Jones, Sr. remarks upon aboard that blimp. If we do it right, if we do what we’re supposed to do as parents, and we give our kids the emotional and intellectual tools they need to succeed in the world, they leave us. That is the inevitable, and even desired outcome of good parenting. They strike out on their own, just when they’re getting interesting, and they embark upon their own lives.
I love that my daughters are out in the world living their best lives. They have their own places, they have jobs, they have friends and interests and ambitions. As they should. But I miss them. All the time.
Fortunately, the whole empty nest thing is a bit of an illusion. Yeah, sure, they don’t live here anymore (we didn’t even need to change the locks . . .). But (again if we do this right) they never stop turning to us for advice, for support (emotional and, on some occasions, material), for friendship. I remember when the girls were really young, one of them starting kindergarten, the other still in diapers, Nancy and I couldn’t wait for the time when going to the grocery store didn’t involve packing as if for a vacation: a change of clothes, extra diapers, extra pacifiers (yes, we used pacis — sue me), snacks, drinks, favorite toys, etc. A few years later, we couldn’t wait until both kids were old enough for us to say, “take a shower and get ready for bed. We’ll be up to say goodnight.” That level of self-reliance was like the Holy Grail. And so on. Every new level of independence, it seemed, gave us more freedom. And we loved that.
(In fairness, I should also add that sometimes — sometimes — I miss those early years, when mom and dad were the be-all and end-all of their worlds. Sometimes.)
Their relocation to their new lives was much the same as those early independence milestones. We love the freedom all of us have now. And we are deeply grateful that, having that freedom, the girls choose to see us, to call us, to rely on us. Like many families, we maintain an ongoing group chat — a continuous conversation among the four of us, a place to share news and funny stuff and photos of new dishes produced in our kitchens. It might well be the most active chat thread I have. It is certainly the one I treasure most.
Yes, this post is kind of all over the place. I miss my girls and I am so very appreciative that our family remains close and connected. I’m thrilled that Alex and Erin have moved out into the world, and I am delighted that they still come back to us. All of these realities can exist side-by-side. Monday Musings posts are about exactly what the title of the feature suggests: the stuff I’m thinking about as I emerge from another weekend. Today, my heart is full, my mind is aswirl with thoughts of my daughters, and I am feeling like a very lucky man indeed.