I call him Puck

He came to live with me a bit more than a year ago,
Bentley is what the shelter said his previous family called him.

He didn't/doesn't feel like a Bentley ... to me;
I call him Puck, and he seems to like the name well enough.

"What's in a name?" the saying goes ...
his feet would smell like popcorn whatever I called him.

He could be Butch or Mike or Clay or Vegemite,
and still be as good (as bad) as when I call him Puck.

Did his mother name him, in the whelping box?
Nibbly, Tiny, Blaze, Bristle-kisses, Milton?

Does Miles (our other rescue 'lab') have a name he uses,
when they speak during the long days while I'm away at work?

Persons and puppies and pencils all have names;
identifiers we use to differentiate them from others of their kind ...
does this naming make them special, or steal something from them?

something private

My heart loves Puck and Ben and Gail and and bacon
and paddling through the river at the bottom of Floodwood,
but never speaks (or knows) their names.

I call him Puck so the world knows who I'm talking about, 
but he and I know each other by the way we feel and smile and glow, 
one in the other's presence ... and that's enough.

Hard Thoughts on a Cold Day

Everything is hard at 20 below
Getting out of bed, walking the dogs,
keeping the house warmth enough to avoid icing inside.

Snow in the driveway is packed hard and flat, but not slippery ... it's too cold for that
In summer, my driveway is torture, the potholes have potholes
But the snow has covered them up, filled them in, smoothed them over.

Life is that way, sometimes
Today's hardship covers or fills or smooths yesterdays troubles
Changing the shape of our lives, sometimes for the better; even while making things ... 



5 Reasons to Review Every Book You Read

Reviews Make Books and Authors and the Marketplace Better
I read more books than I write reviews for, but I'm working on it, and getting better every day.
Reviews  take almost no time, are easy to write, and can make a huge difference to both readers and writers ... here are five reasons why you should review every book you read.
#1 - Reviews are Tips for Writers
When I take a cab or go out for dinner or pass a street performer, I generally give a tip to the cabdriver or wait staff or artist if I feel that I've gotten something above and beyond the ordinary ... it's both polite and supports/encourages excellence.
I think the same thing is true for writers. I love hearing from readers that they enjoyed one of my books, a particular character or scene, or that it made them think differently about some aspect of their world ... I love it more than I love getting paid for my writing (which, honestly, is pretty great too).

#2 - Reviews are Tips for Writers 
(no, that's not a mistake ... I'm using the same phrase twice, intentionally)
 I also like hearing from people who have read my books concerning things they wish I had done differently or better. I like getting these tips on improving my writing from the people who cared enough to write them, and tend to take them seriously.
I don't always change my writing based on this feedback, but it's nice to know what people are thinking, and it generally has some impact on how I plan and craft subsequent writing projects.

#3 - Amazon Hides Authors/Books with Few Reviews
Amazon uses algorithms to help determine which authors and books to promote or recommend to their customers. Writing even a brief review means that more people will see the book(s) that you read and enjoy.
Supporting up and coming authors is as easy as writing a review for their books.
#4 - Marketing Opportunities Exist for Reviewed Author
Lots of books are published every day, and most of them will never sell 100 copies, or get more than a couple of reviews ... sad, but true, and in many cases warranted (by virtue of their not being great, or even good, books). Because of this, many marketing opportunities are out of the reach of independent authors (like me) until they receive 10 or 20 positive reviews.
Once an author/book has crossed this magic line in the publishing world, a number of doors open, which can help get our books out to more readers, which is what every writer wants.
#5 - Impressing My Mother
My mom loves me, and she reads everything that I write ... even the stuff that's too violent or abstract for her. She's loyal and loving and thinks that I'm a genius and the best author since ... other really great authors!
Giving me (and by proxy, other indie authors with mothers) reviews for their books will go a long way towards making Thanksgiving Dinner less awkward and embarrassing. Muz (a childhood name for my mother) loves the vindication that having dozens of positive reviews for my work lends her bragging ... so keep it up!
All joking aside, I don't want fake reviews (no author does) ... just reviews. 
I sold a couple of thousand copies of my books last year, and only got a couple dozen reviews.  What I (and probably all indie authors) want are honest reviews from more readers than currently write/post them.
My rate of reviews is between two and five percent for my various published books ... I would love for that number to jump to twenty percent, but would be very happy with one review for every ten readers (ten percent for those who like reading more than mathematics).
I find that I tend to write more reviews for books that I love than the ones that I don't like ... or don't even finish (I gave myself permission years ago, to stop a book that I don't enjoy after a decent number of pages ... generally 75-100). In that sense, my reviews tend to be something of a 'Thank You!' to the authors whose work I enjoy.
I'm OK with that ... in a perfect world, everyone (myself included) would write a fully honest review for every book that they read ... if the real world could manage a slightly higher percentage of readers writing reviews for a slightly higher percentage of the books that they read, I'd be very happy.
I'm going to do my part, and hope that you will too ... your reviews can be twenty words, and take three minutes, so please make an effort to write more.


Love in Four Dimensions

I spent months before he arrived worried,
that I would let him down, screw him up, not be good … or enough.

I was scared of him when we first met,
certain that I'd drop him or break him … or not know what to do when he pooped.

I didn't, he didn't, we figured it out.

I remember being tired, so very tired … all of the time when he was little.
I could feel the gap between the father that I wanted to be, and the one I was ….

Looking back, I worry about diverging roads,
and being sorry that I cannot go back and take the ones less grumpy/tired/resentful.

He loves me so absolutely, so fiercely, that it frightens me,
I want to be worthy of that brand-loyalty, and am at times certain that I am not (cannot be).

I watch him play and eat and sleep and read and work,
wondering if he's as happy as he could be …
if I should have:
           picked him up sooner (or later) when he cried
                      spent more time (around, with him, reading, snuggling)
                                told him that I loved him more often/emphatically

His victories and greatness are all his own, his creation … him;
his shortcomings or failings all smell of me … things I did or didn't do.

He was born pure and perfect, nothing but promise,
Any mountains he doesn't climb can be traced back to me.

It's possible that all parents are this flavor of crazy.




Piles of words and ideas,
sometimes ordered, sometimes messy,
guide me through a wilderness, along a path dimly seen at best.
One inukshuk leads to the next,
each barely visible from the last,
until I have traveled, with mind and keyboard, to my destination.
(be it story's end ... a pretty view ... or just a comfortable place to stay for the night)
Some of the inuksuit are mine alone,
others were built by vast teams (of books and friends and things I see driving),
once in place, their pull along a new trail is hard to resist.
These markers/guides/waypoints provide just enough ...
information about the trail, some vague indication of what is to come,
people and places I may meet along the way.
I never know everything about (or have a complete picture of) the stories I tell,
I don't want to, don't need to, in some essential way ... cannot,
it is for me to explore, discover, and then, finally, share the story.
Getting lost and wet and dirty and sore (and scared) along the way
is what makes it work (and worthwhile) ... for me.




"Caretakers" Published, and Thoughts on Writer/Reader Interaction

My second novel, "Caretakers", went live on Amazon this week.

I'm happy and excited to have written a follow-up to "Here Be Monsters"; proud of both novels (along with my two novellas) for different reasons.

With "Caretakers", I'm trying something a little different, and am hopeful that if it works (even a little) that I will keep it up in and around my future projects.

"Caretakers" is a book about secrets, and I've included a few opportunities for readers to peek behind (and beyond) the screen ... if they want. The book ends (as all books do) with some details left out, still shrouded ... covered up by time or through the actions of evil men.

I wrote a good deal more in the first draft of "Caretakers" than ended up in the final product ... material was cut for the sake of flow and storyline.

I was glad to have written all of the 'excess' material; it provided background and details that I needed to know, even if the reader did not. It was only during one of the final edits of the book that I considered the extra material, and discussed making some of it available with my chief editor.

We decided that it was an important part of the story, if not the novel, so I have posted some of the material to my website, available to readers through a link in the back of the book. I assume that many/most readers will not avail themselves of this extra material, as the novel ties things up quite nicely as is, and only a nosey-parker would need to know more.

I remember this book (and others like it) from my childhood. I loved, and still love the idea of interacting with an author to craft my own reading experience. While this isn't how I want to write my books, I do like the idea of giving readers some opportunity to interact with me, my characters, and my stories beyond the covers as it were.

I like the idea of making some extra materials available to those who want the chance to expand on the experience a bit ...a glance down some avenues or alleyways that the books didn't have time or space or nerve to explore.

I'm still thinking about the concept ... its virtues as well as limitations; I'd love to get feedback from any or all of you.




5 Resolutions Every Writer Should Make for this year!

The beginning of a new year is a great time to plan for change(s).

We've all made extravagant New Year's Resolutions ... jogging every day, eliminating meat and foods that start with the letter 'Q' from your diet, never touching alcohol again, getting to work early and staying late, being a better parent/son/husband/friend, etc.; most of these go by the wayside before the end of the first week in January.

I'm trying a different approach this year, and wanted to share.

As the spinach-eater said, "I am what I am!", and that's not likely to change; so instead, my focus for this year is to change my writing in five ways:

#1: I will write a novel and three shorter works this year

In 2013, I published my first novel, two shorter works, and a number of poems. I would love to plan on writing everyday, but that's not a likely outgrowth of my lifestyle or work/home schedule. I have my 2014 novel ready to publish, and plans for the next two novellas in my Tyler Cunningham series. In addition to that, I have felt the shape of a new work, and am interested in possibly rendering this as a series of short stories, or in serial form.
 #2: I will read 24 novels this year

To be a writer, you need to be a reader ... I believe this in the same way that I believe that I need to breathe air to stay alive. I plan to read two new (to me) novels every month; at least half of these by writers I'm not familiar with already. Even if I don't love each of the books, I'm certain to get something useful from them ... something that can inform my writing or thinking or planning process.

#3: I will learn about writing from accomplished writers

I enjoyed reading and listening to a number of essays and books and interviews about and by authors whose work I enjoy. My plan for 2014 is to continue this process, but in a more organized manner. I have built a small library of books and collected interviews in which authors I respect talk about the craft of writing. I would also like to go to more author-events, and maybe conferences to learn more about the art and science of writing fiction from people whose work I enjoy and respect.

#4: I will share my thoughts about writing
and/or publish poetry on my blog on a weekly basis

Since setting up this blog, I've tried to post something every week or two; in 2014, I would like to establish and maintain a more rigorous and predictable schedule. I enjoy using the blog as a place to talk about writing, share updates about my current projects, and sometimes share short pieces of my writing with the people who visit. I believe that doing this not only spreads the word about me and my writing, but provides an opportunity for me to practice expressing myself in a public forum, both of which are useful to me as a writer.

#5: I will work on improving the grammar in my writing

The act of writing, and sharing, my work keeps a steady pressure on me to improve my writing. Beyond this, I want to find other ways to polish my style and use of language. Working with my copy-editor during the final stages of cleaning up my second novel, "Caretakers", was a real eye-opener about how much the mechanics of my writing could improve, and I want to stretch myself over the course of this next year to make a more readable product for my readers.

I think that these five resolutions will make me a better writer ... and could help every writer improve the quality of their writing (which is why I'm sharing it). I would love to hear about other ways that writers are resolved to improve their writing over the next year!