Category Archives: Personal

Take a Hike

When you crack a good book, it’s easy to forget that someone toiled long, lonely hours to produce what you now so effortlessly hold in your hand. At some point somewhere, a writer sat alone in a room thinking, imagining, creating. He put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) with no guarantee of success, no promise of payout, no rules or roadmap to follow. Yet still he set out, steeling himself for the long, arduous road ahead, doing his damnest to remember always that the reward is in the journey, not the destination.

ups and downsIn this way, writing is much like hiking: there are a hell of a lot of ups and downs along your way to the summit, but that’s what makes the whole experience so profoundly satisfying. Along the trail you may encounter magnificent vistas where the entire mountain range spreads out before you, or you might find yourself mired in dark, choking forests where you can barely see ten feet in front of you. There are bleak, windswept ridges and dank, pungent hollows. Places where life springs abundant, others where it struggles to gain a toehold. Later, when you show people your pictures, they see you smiling atop some proud peak, exhausted but elated, battered but not beaten. Despite all the hard work, you accomplished what you set out to accomplish. And success is a beautiful thing, something people love sharing and appreciating.

backpack gearLess glamorous and typically uncelebrated are the countless hours you spent preparing for your adventure. The trips to EMS or REI or LL Bean, where you selected the right boots, the perfect pack, the vast array of backcountry gear you’ll need to survive on the trail. The practice hikes you took in the forest preserve or state park near your house. The route you mapped out, then double and triple checked. The emergency contacts you notified of your planned whereabouts. The field first aid course you completed…just in case. And, certainly not least of these, all the mental calisthenics you engaged in while convincing yourself that you were up to the momumental task ahead.

trash-binSimilarly, no one ever sees an author’s first or second or tenth drafts. No one pores over his outlines and notes, seeing all the scratch marks and revisions. No one counts the crumpled sheets of paper in his wastebasket or the deleted paragraphs in his computer’s recycle bin. No one realizes how many nights he’s lain awake in bed contemplating a particularly irksome character conflict or plot hole. No one really grasps that for every minute you spend reading, the author spent an hour or two or ten writing, revising, and polishing those same words. Instead, all the reader sees – because it is all the reader is meant to see – is the author’s triumphant summit photo, the culmination of all his hard work, that perfect snapshot.


This is the magic of good writing. It allows us to pretend that all the author’s prep work, all his practice and toil, all his false starts and missteps, never occurred. It tricks us into believing that his story always existed, a perfectly-wrought conflict between perfectly-formed characters in a perfectly-rendered world. It’s an expert illusion, one that authors and, indeed, all types of artists, have been practicing for millennia. And we’re happy being deceived. When words flow effortlessly off a page or when brushstrokes come alive on a canvas or when the very music we listen to seems to dance with life, we forget about the writer or painter or musician. All we see is beauty, pure and magnificent, an expression of something we cannot ourselves articulate, but to which we can all relate in some primal way.

For now, I’m still gathering my gear, planning my route, building stamina and strength. I’ve summitted some minor peaks in the meantime: I’ve finished my first novel, built this website and a small but thriving Facebook fan page, written several short stories I really like, and continued sending out submissions in the hopes of getting published…all while pressing forward with my second novel. I know I’m making progress even though the summit isn’t yet in sight. I can feel it out there, waiting.

Even if you don’t tag along with me through all my preparations, all my practice runs, I hope you’ll join me at the summit someday. I hear the view’s incredible.

Put your heart away, kid. You’re getting blood everywhere.

My friend and fellow writer, Andre L. Davis*, is a self-described recovering marketing professional. For the past two+ years, we’ve enjoyed frequent meetings of the minds around town, talking shop over dinner and beers at some of our favorite local hangouts. It’s particularly fun since Andre and I, though we both fall under the sci-fi banner, write completely different kinds of sci-fi. He’s into epic, sweeping stories that span interstellar distances, pitting one civilization against another. Dark, urban biopunk is more my speed. But for both of us, the goal is the same: to write excellent stories that speak to you, that sink their teeth in and refuse to let go. And just to complicate matters, we must then, as relative unknowns, figure out how to get your attention, how to stand out amidst the constant bombardment of “Buy me! Read me! Try me!” messages that saturate our lives every day. It’s like trying to be heard over the roar of a jet engine at full throttle.

Can you hear me now?

Can you hear me now?

For better or worse, I’ve always been a wear-my-heart-on-my-sleeve kind of guy. Sometimes this gets me into trouble, like when my mouth starts running a step or two ahead of my brain or when I cave to some irrational, passion-fueled fancy, but by and large, I’m grateful for this trait. The highs and lows are beautiful yet brutal, providing perfect fodder for my work. And because I lead with my heart, wearing it around for everyone to see – and especially because I’ve always been like this – I think sometimes I forget that not everyone feels the same.

 heart on sleeve

So here I am: inexperienced, zealous beyond belief, SHOUTING over the jet roar as my heart throbs wildly on my sleeve. I know I’m spewing my mind’s bloody gore every which way as I try to simply. be. heard. but I hope you’ll excuse me; I’ve never been any other way.

Thus far, I’ve spent a lot of time writing here (and on my Facebook page) about who I am, where I come from, and what I’ve experienced these past three years as I’ve written my fingers to the bone, chasing my artistic ambitions. But who really cares about all that? My family and friends, sure, but they have a vested interest. They’re biased. What about other writers? I know I like reading about the writing process, about what others experience as they toil away behind the scenes, but in all likelihood that’s because I, myself, am a writer. I geek out to that stuff. The typical person, though, who ekes out a little slice of quiet time each day to read, probably doesn’t care so much about how my latest draft is coming along or how many rewrites I’ve completed. They just want a riveting story to read or a new nugget of knowledge to absorb. As for all this “writing process” mumbo jumbo, that’s all well and good, but – ahem – when can we read the story? When are you going to give us something juicy to chew on? Please and thank you.


Last week during a discussion about this very topic, Andre (in his recovering-marketing-professional wisdom) suggested that I spend some time curating interesting content on my website and Facebook page. Links to photos, articles, and stories that I find fascinating, funny, or just a pleasant diversion from a day otherwise occupied by routine. The rationale? If I, as a writer, science fiction fan, and lover of all things science, find these topics of interest, other people who share my interests will, too. That builds value in my brand, my name, my presence. I’m providing something that people wish to consume, which is exactly what writers (all artists, for that matter) must do.

With Andre’s advice in mind, I’ve already started revamping my Facebook page. Within the past week, I’ve shared at least half a dozen links that will help give you some idea what interests me and what you can expect from me. Eventually, you’ll be able to step back and see how all these little snapshots fit together to form a cohesive picture, a mosaic of my mind.

Of course I’ll still post updates about my writing milestones, but that won’t be my sole focus. I’m going to tuck my heart away for a little while in order to give you a glimpse of my mind.

Hope you enjoy the view…

* For more information about Andre and his work, check out his website and follow him on Facebook.

The Soundtrack of Christmas

Outside, it’s cold. Frigid, the way December nights can be in northern New England. Wind is prowling round our house, searching for a way in, howling when it fails. Every so often when it tries to force its way down the chimney, a little puff of bluish-white smoke escapes from the wood stove at the far end of the living room. The sweet, sharp smoke intermingles with the fresh, fragrant evergreen we just brought in from the garage.

Our Christmas tree.

My mom and I stand back to admire it. “It’s a chubster,” my mom says, smiling. She isn’t fooling; it is a chubster, full and round and stout. A fraiser fir, with compact blue-green needles, dense plumage, and a perfect profile. Fraisers may not be as aromatic as balsams, but they hold their needles a whole lot longer, and with the wood stove cranked, cooking all moisture from the air, the tree has an uphill climb if it hopes to make it to New Year’s.

It’s about time to start decorating, to begin the slow, sentimental process of unpacking each ornament, of looking it over, laughing, and saying, “I forgot about this one!” or “God this one’s ugly!” or “That’s my sled!” (anyone born in the 70’s or 80’s will know that I’m not talking about Rosebud), but before we begin, we need music.

The record player in the corner is dusty with disuse. A meager library of LP’s is stacked on the floor beneath it, and I crouch down to flip through them, searching for the bright red jacket of The Boston Camerata’s Sing We Noel.


Now, I didn’t grow up listening to Bing Crosby and Brenda Lee, to standards like White Christmas and Let it Snow and Little Drummer Boy. I grew up on old music, on ancient carols like Gloucestershire Wassail, Coventry Carol, and Ad cantus leticie. This music was written and first performed as early as the twelve, thirteen, fourteen hundreds, and when the Camerata recorded it in 1978 (the year I was born, coincidentally), I doubt they knew that forever after, it would be for me synonymous with Christmas, with tree-trimming and family and joy. In my house, it was the holiday soundtrack.

I slide the record from its sleeve and carefully position it on the turntable. I start it spinning and, with the concentration of a brain surgeon, drop the needle down right at the record’s edge. For a few seconds, there’s just the soft, hissing crackle of dead air. Then fourteen bright, rich voices pour from the speakers, instantly transporting me to some immense, medieval cathedral where God himself is leading the ensemble. Majestic, it is.

Mom and I set to work, hanging our ornaments, pretending not to notice the faint, musty smell that clings to them, a product of their eleven-month hibernation in the cellar. (It’s all part of the experience.) We sing along with the Camerata when we know the words, hum when we don’t. We smile because the music is like a warm embrace from a dear friend we haven’t seen in far too long.

Finally, the icicles, glass bulbs, and Santas hung just so and our star perched atop the highest bough, we turn down the lights, turn up the music, and stand back to ooh and aah. It’s a real beauty this year, we agree. Maybe the best ever…

Things have changed now. I live in Chicago and my mom and I haven’t decorated a frasier together in ten years, at least. I’m still home for Christmas every year (I’m finishing this post in my childhood bedroom), but our tradition of trimming the tree together has fallen by the wayside. I miss it.

Three weeks ago while my wife, Marta, and I decorated our table-top tree in Chicago, I streamed Sing We Noel from my iPod. I sung along when I knew the words, hummed when I didn’t. Marta’s even learned some of the melodies by now, and when we stand back to ooh and aah at our own little tree, I feel the same giddy joy I remember as a boy. The music brings me right back, just like it always will, and I smile, knowing that this tradition will live on.

Merry Christmas.

The Titanic 2: Molly’s Brush with Death

My cousin, Molly, is lucky to be alive.

I don’t remember exactly how old we were, but I’m going to say ten, eleven, and twelve–Andy the oldest, Molly the youngest, me right in the middle. Growing up on the farm, the three of us were peas in a pod (I couldn’t resist!); designations like “sibling” and “cousin” meant nothing to us. Together, we were brilliant inventors, intrepid adventurers, best friends. We explored, charted, and touched every inch of that farm, and I’m sure if you look closely, you can still see the marks we left behind.

Me, I don’t even have to look closely. All I have to do is close my eyes and I can see them perfectly, as if no time at all has passed.

So this one day, Andy suggested we build boats to sail across the Upper Pond. I don’t actually remember if it was Andy’s idea, but I’m assuming it was. He always had the riskiest ideas.

First, you need to understand something about the Upper Pond. When it was constructed in the 1950’s–one of three irrigation ponds on the farm–it was a pristine masterpiece, a gravel oasis stocked with bass and bluegill, filled to the brim with fresh, clear water. Then thirty-five years passed, and it became a wild, weed-choked mud wallow, its murky depths the stuff of nightmares. Despite the old photos we’d seen showing gleeful farmhands splashing in its sparkling waters, my cousins and I had never dared set foot in it. The Upper Pond was scary.


Just up the hill from the Upper Pond sat our grandfather’s tractor shed. It was a long, brown, corrugated steel structure, home to four tractors–a pair of Fords, a John Deere, and a Kabota–barn swallows without number, and our holy grail: Grandpa’s workshop, with its wooden benches; herds of sawhorses; boxes of nails and bolts and screws; tool racks hung with pliers, wrenches, hammers, and saws; bags of seed stacked in the corners; gas cans milling about the door; and there, beneath it all, the smell of sawdust and oil and earth. I’ve never been anywhere else that smelled exactly like it.


It’s strange–I have no memories of Grandpa working in his workshop (he was too busy in the fields, I guess)–but that didn’t stop Andy, Molly, and me from putting it to excellent use. It became our workshop, our laboratory, our think tank, and on this particular day, our dry dock, too.

We pillaged the scrap wood pile, searching for perfect keels and masts, and it was soon apparent that while Molly and I were on the same page, laying out the pieces to our fine model sailboats, Andy had other plans. BIG plans. His boards dwarfed ours, and the sheet of plastic he’d cut from the leftover bolts of greenhouse sheathing was enormous–a king-sized bed’s worth, at least. Molly and I were intrigued, but despite our pleas, Andy wasn’t revealing his design. We’d just have to wait and see.

I can’t say how long the construction process took. It might have been a few hours, or it could have lasted a few days. That’s the beauty of childhood: time doesn’t matter. You don’t worry about things like schedules or deadlines. You simply create, deftly wielding your imagination while time melts away around you. Then, without even realizing you were gone, that you’d been lost in some make-believe world, you snap back to reality, look down, and see that your boats are built, ready for their maiden voyage.

I was proud of my effort. I really wish I had a picture of it somewhere. (More on that in a minute.) The design was simple: I nailed two boards into the shape of a cross–the longer of the two (five feet, I’d estimate) served as the keel, the shorter (four feet, perhaps?) as an outrigger. We’d found some old styrofoam seed flats in the greenhouse, which I glued to the underside of both keel and outrigger for buoyancy. A long wooden stake, held fast with guylines of twine, was my mast, while I’d fashioned a sail out of the same greenhouse plastic Andy had used (albeit a much smaller piece). 

Andy’s craft had taken shape, too. Not content constructing a model boat like us kids, Andy had built an actual boat, complete with crude scrap wood oars, fully intended for human passage. Looking back now, it was little more than a rickety, oblong frame, the greenhouse plastic wrapped around it, forming a precarious hull. At the time, though, Molly and I thought it was the Titanic reimagined, a luxurious ocean liner compared to our little toy dinghies.

We lugged the boats down the hill from the workshop to the shore of the Upper Pond. Andy needed help maneuvering his through the tangle of cat-o-nine tails at the water’s edge and by now, a small audience (okay, it was really just Andy and Molly’s step-mother, Michelle) had gathered to witness the christening.

Molly and I took turns scooting our boats out onto the water, where they lolled and bobbed like so many pieces of flotsam, adrift on the current, slave to the breeze. We all oohed and aahed in appropriate measure–at least the things floated–but what we really wanted to see was the S.S. Andy’s sea trial.

Andy’s boat twisted and torqued as he slipped it into the water for the first time, and almost immediately, it began to leak. That’s what happens, I guess, when you use staples and nails on a plastic hull rather than rivets on steel.

Then, Michelle said something that made a whole lot of sense to Andy and me: “Molly, get in for a sec. See if it holds you.” Sometimes she had the riskiest ideas.

It required more than a little goading, I recall, before Molly finally stepped into Andy’s boat, a look of mild distress written on her face as the water continued to blub blub blub up from the dark abyss that was the Upper Pond.

Michelle was laughing by now. “Oh my god!” she said. “I have to get my camera. Stay here!” And off she jogged, up the hill, past the tractor shed, to the old farmhouse where she, my uncle, Andy, and Molly lived. A minute or two passed, then she reappeared, camera in hand, jogging back down the hill toward us.

Now, for many years, Michelle was our family’s only photographer (then Charles came along, but that’s another story), the only person who documented everyday moments such as…well, such as the S.S. Andy’s first voyage. To this day, phrases like, “Your eyes were shut!” and “Hold it right there!” and “Wait, one more!” flow from her as effortlessly as breath.

And flow they did that afternoon as Molly slowly sank into the pond.

“Oh, Molly, these are great!” she said, ruthlessly snapping away, the camera shutter clicking with rapid-fire efficiency. Molly didn’t appear convinced.

“Just a few more. Andy, push her out a little farther.”

“Michelle!” Molly protested.

“This is it, I promise! I just want to get a couple without the weeds.”

So with his foot, Andy gave the boat an obliging push, and away Molly drifted, another five or six feet from shore. It might as well have been a hundred miles.

It must have been terrifying standing there in that boat, seeing the inky water pressing in against that thin, diaphanous hull, knowing she was on her way down with the ship as Michelle captured the whole thing on film. Molly wasn’t one to panic, though; she kept her wits. That’s probably why she’s here today.

Satisfied at last with the shots she’d gotten, Michelle beckoned Molly back to shore. By now the S.S. Andy had taken on so much water that it sat low and pregnant in the pond, a dead weight not easily propelled. Molly dug in with one of its scrap wood oars and rowed for her life, moving toward us with grim determination, each stroke drawing her a few inches closer to safety, the flimsy boat threatening to come apart beneath her at any moment.

I gave her a fifty-fifty shot.

It seemed to take forever for her to reclaim the five or six feet Andy’s foot had given her, and even when the boat nudged its way in through the cattails, Molly’s ordeal wasn’t yet over. There were no stepping stones, no safe toeholds. She’d have to splash through the shallows to reach dry land.

Out came Michelle’s camera again as Molly took a deep breath and plunged into the pond.

I can’t speak for Andy, but I think I half expected the water to burn Molly’s feet away like some kind of caustic acid, that she’d totter unsteadily onto dry land, balancing upon two smoldering stumps. Instead, she scrambled up the embankment, her pants soaked below the knees, her muck-slathered shoes each containing an intact, unburned foot. The only thing burning just then were Molly’s eyes. She glared at Andy, who’d built her such a flimsy boat, and then at Michelle, who’d insisted it would hold her. I’m not sure whether she glared at me, but she probably did just for good measure. Then she stalked off toward the house, squelching as she went, no doubt planning a revenge that included tattooing Michelle’s squeaky-clean floors with pond scum footprints.

Later, Andy towed his half-sunken wreck from the water and scrapped it. Not bad for a first attempt, we agreed, but perhaps from now on we’d leave the shipbuilding to the folks up at Bath Iron Works. Besides, we weren’t brave enough to attempt another crossing in one of Andy’s designs, and Molly wasn’t talking to us. It was time to move on to new projects, new ideas. We had a whole farm to explore, after all.

Oh, remember how I said I wished I had a picture of my boat? You might be wondering why I didn’t end up with one or two given all the shots Michelle took that day. Well, as it turned out, her camera didn’t have any film in it–a danger of the pre-digital era–so while Molly risked life and limb for that perfect picture, Michelle was shooting blanks, capturing imaginary photos on imaginary film.

In the end, though, it didn’t matter. The memories of that day live on, perfectly preserved for all time.

Like Molly, they survived.

MacGyver was a badass

MacGyver was a badass. Give the guy a paper clip, some matches, a pocket knife, and a roll of duct tape, and in a minute or two he’d build you a fully functional bomb. Not a bomb for killing, mind you (Mac never killed. He didn’t even like holding guns.), but handy for, say, blowing open a locked door to save the girl or disabling the bad guy’s getaway car. He possessed the uncanny ability to transform everyday objects into powerful tools and, hokey as it may sound, I credit him with helping me see that the whole is often greater than the sum of its parts.

“But Evan,” you ask, “what about that mullet of his?”


Ah, well, no one’s perfect. I’m willing to overlook his style blunders, as I’m quite certain I’m guilty of my own share of fashion faux pas. (My Aunt Michelle would be glad to detail them for you; I’m convinced she keeps a list somewhere of every questionable outfit I’ve ever worn.) So, regardless of whether you dig his dreamy locks, let’s agree that some things just are: summer follows spring, the opposite of up is down, MacGyver was a badass.

Mac isn’t the only one who laid claim to my boyhood heart. Even before he came into my life, I loved Sir David Attenborough, with his melodic British accent and knack for breaking complex scientific principles into simple, layman’s terms. It’s going on thirty years, but I can still picture him standing next to a Hawaiian volcano in his familiar orange slicker, explaining how the lava formed tubes as it cooled. The tubes were like subway tunnels, the lava like freight trains speeding through them on a one way trip to the sea. Awesome, let me tell you!


Some time after the PBS miniseries The Living Planet aired in 1985, while out on an errand with my mom one day (or so the story goes), I thought I might stump her with a bit of trivia I’d picked up from the good Sir. “Mom,” I said, “do you know what we’re driving on?” She smelled a trap, but wasn’t sure what angle I would take. “Middle Road?” she hazarded. When I shook my head, she tried again. “Tar?” Nope, strike two. After letting her sweat for a minute, I declared, quite matter-of-factly: “Mom, we’re driving on molten lava!” Okay, so my science wasn’t exact, but don’t blame David Attenborough for that. He taught me to observe the world around me – to look under every rock, peer into every hole, and study every mystery.

Around this same time, studying one mystery or another, I discovered C.S. Lewis’s magical realm, Narnia. Suddenly, a new world beckoned – one every bit as real and textured as my world, but where anything was possible. Where animals spoke, where winter lasted a hundred years, and where an ordinary boy, not unlike myself, might reign as a wise and gentle king. I devoured the seven-book series and for the first time, found true delight in reading.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

Later, as an anxious thirteen-year-old interviewing for admittance to St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH, I was asked to name my favorite author. “C.S. Lewis,” I answered without hesitation. “Have you heard of him?” My interviewer, as I recall, was a jovial man named Mr. Green (not to be confused with Colonel Mustard or Professor Plum), and he found this question quite amusing. Little did I know that C.S. Lewis was, besides a beloved children’s author, a well known theologian. Whatever he is, to me, he will always remain the master of Narnia, the man who taught me to love books.

In the winter of 1999, I discovered a different sort of magical realm while visiting my cousin, Sean, in Ireland. Having wandered into a Virgin Records store one afternoon in Dublin, I happened upon a lonely set of headphones connected to a sample of Radiohead’s OK Computer. In the blurb above the display, one reviewer had dubbed the album “the Dark Side of the Moon of the 90’s.” I had never been a huge Radiohead fan, but of course, being the semi-hip twenty-year-old I was, had heard Creep, Fake Plastic Trees, and High and Dry about a thousand times each on the radio.

When I slipped those headphones on and hit play, my world changed.

For months after returning to the States, I would drive around with my friend, Chris, in his old Camry wagon (the car in which I learned to drive stick) blasting OK Computer through his Rockford Fosgates and Pioneer 6×9’s, trying to decipher just what in the hell Thom Yorke was singing about. Have you ever tried figuring out his lyrics? Good luck, that’s all I have to say. We never cheated, though, never peeked at the jacket liner for a hint, and when we finally did manage to pick out a particularly garbled word or phrase, felt more than a little proud of ourselves. It was part of the magic for us, and when I think about all of the hours I’ve spent with Thom, Johnny, Colin, Ed, and Phil, I can’t begin to imagine what my life would be like without them and their sonic alchemy. Suffice to say I don’t want to imagine that life.


These days, my hero is a guy named Steve. You’ve probably heard of him – maybe you love him, too, or maybe you can’t stand him. Maybe you just don’t care. Whatever – it’s cool. Everyone’s entitled to his or her own opinion. But regardless, just as summer follows spring, the opposite of up is down, and MacGyver was a badass, I hope we can all agree that Stephen King is a master of his craft, a trueborn storyteller, a cultural icon of our times.


I read Carrie first, which seemed fitting since it was his first published novel. It was a quick read – one hundred seventy pages, give or take – raw and gritty. When I finished, I read about it. I learned that King, after writing the opening scene, tossed it in the garbage, certain no one would care to read a story about a telekinetic teen’s first menstruation. Fortunately his wife, Tabby, fished it from the waste basket and urged him to keep at it. He did, the book sold, and the rest is history. Now I keep a King quote taped to the inside cover of my writing journal:

“I persisted because I was dry and had no better ideas…my considered opinion was that I had written the world’s all-time loser.” [i]

On my worst days, when I’m convinced I’ll never publish any of my work and that it’s all a bunch of garbage, this helps remind me that we all have insecurities, that even someone as accomplished as Stephen King isn’t immune to doubt. And then I pick myself up and move forward, because in the end, whether I’m published or not, I am a writer. It’s in my blood.

All of these men – MacGyver, Sir David Attenborough, C.S. Lewis, the members of Radiohead, Stephen King – have, in their own ways, played a part in my life story. And because I write from my own life’s experience (not necessarily about it, but certainly informed by it), I must give credit where credit’s due. Not only did these men help spark the fires of curiosity, ingenuity, and creativity that burn within me, but over the years, they’ve continued to stoke the flames, inspiring me to pursue my own dream of, in some small way, changing the world, making a difference to some boy or girl, man or woman, who sits down on a rainy afternoon with one of my stories.

And who knows? With a little luck, maybe one day someone who is touched by my work, who’s excited and inspired by it, will call me a badass, too. Until then, I’ve got my paper clip, matches, pocket knife, and duct tape at the ready…just in case.

[i] King, Stephen (February 1980). “On Becoming a Brand Name”. Adelina Magazine: 44

Cheese, Cars, and Stories: A Sale is a Sale is a Sale

I would never pass muster as a vegan; I just love cheese too much.

Looking back, it seems I spent half my adolescence – after school, weekends, vacations – slinging the stuff at my family’s (now closed) specialty food store, Tuttle’s Red Barn. Manchego, Gouda, Humboldt Fog, Maytag Blue, Petit Basque, Cabra al Vino, Stilton… Don’t get me started lest I short out my keyboard with drool! Cheese, to me, is a divine combination of nature and nurture, a gift from the gods, wrought by man, to rival the sweetest ambrosia. Of course, I wasn’t always so enthusiastic when it came time to clock in for my shift, but once behind the deli counter, knife in hand, I was a cheese-selling machine. In the spirit of full disclosure, cheese sells itself. I was just the (not so) pretty face that cut, wrapped, and handed it to the customer. But, giving credit where credit’s due, I sent many customers happily on their way with two, three, hell…six more hunks of cheese than they’d intended to buy. It wasn’t hard; all I had to do was make a suggestion or two, let them sample something they’d never tried before, and off they went, hands full, wondering why they hadn’t thought to grab a basket when they came in. Like I said, cheese sells itself.

Armed with the naïve misconception that everything is as easy to hock, I took a job selling Toyotas when I moved to Chicago. My first day out on the floor, I leased a brand new convertible to a middle-aged divorcée. No BS, no underhanded car lot tricks. Just me, walking away from the deal nearly $800 richer, thinking to myself, “Now this is how you make a living!” That delusion quickly faded when, for the following three weeks, I didn’t sell a single car and had to make due with the meager weekly “draw” (a base salary of sorts that must be repaid to the dealer when you finally DO manage a sale). I lasted three and a half months at the dealership. Not exactly laying the foundation of a career, and a far cry from selling cheese. Sales, it seems, is more difficult when the customer can’t try a nibble of what you’re selling.

It’s been a while since I’ve made a living in sales. Now I moonlight as an inventory planner/purchaser, buying rather than selling, as I chase my dream of becoming a professional writer. So let’s talk about this for a minute… When you think author – or painter, playwright, screen writer, sculptor, actor, dancer, or [insert artistic pursuit here] – you don’t think sales, right? You don’t picture big business, margins, percentages, losses, profits. Neither did I when I got started. All I knew was that I had an idea that needed to get out, characters and events that had to come to to life. For nineteen long months I worked on my story, breathing that life into it, giving heart and soul to a concept that would have remained locked away, lifeless, in my mind were it not for my burning desire to release it, to put it down on paper for whomever wished to ride along with me and my imagination for a little while. And when I finished my draft almost exactly a year ago (pictured below, printed for the first time, alongside a celebratory beer), I thought the hard part was over.


How wrong I was!

To be sure, spewing 130,000 words is not an easy task. I endured many a day where I actually lost words, editing and cutting as I progressed, chopping fluff. There were days I stared madly at my computer, willing inspiration to strike. And even on the days when I netted words, when I forged ahead, I would often think to myself, “You’re wasting your time. No one will want to read this sh*t.” Still, I trudged on, and in the end, I was thrilled just to have finished such a monumental undertaking. In many ways, I’ve been good at talking myself out of taking risks in life, but in this case, my pessimistic side was fortunately trumped by the part of me that was determined to see this through.

Last spring, after nearly six months of revisions, I began submitting my story to literary agents. At first I mistakenly believed that all I needed to break into the publishing world was a compelling manuscript and a winning query letter. And to be sure, NOTHING is more important than a compelling manuscript. But faced with two equally compelling stories, how does an agent choose which one to represent? The answer, it turns out, is simple: the agent chooses the story that has the stronger author platform behind it. They’ll choose the writer who’s taken the time and made the effort to establish an online presence, who recognizes the value in networking and self-promotion, who’s invested in himself and his future. In short, the writer who’s a stronger salesman wins.

Sales. Whether we’re talking cheese, cars, or stories, a sale is a sale is a sale. In today’s Internet age, writers are expected not only to be master story-tellers, but also sales and marketing experts. As if it’s not difficult enough to write a novel, we’re now shouldering much of the responsibility that traditionally fell to the publishing houses’ marketing machines. And the learning curve is steep. Social media. Website development. Product placement. Readings. Giveaways. The list goes on and on. The Internet now enables artists to reach a far wider audience than ever before, but with this power comes a whole host of new challenges. Writing the story is the EASY part. Selling it, convincing an agent and editor to pick YOU out of the thousands upon thousands of prospects that pour into their inboxes every day, is much harder.

I write, first and foremost, for me. I have stories to tell and find it incredibly gratifying to tell them. But as I’ve said before, I also write for YOU, holding close the hope that one day, you’ll read one of my stories and, for a little while, be transported far from your everyday concerns to a place filled with intrigue and wonder. A place where anything is possible and where dreams (and occasionally nightmares) become real.

My hope is that you’ll discover a new favorite!


Eleven days and counting…

Nineteen months have passed since I proposed to Marta. Nineteen months… Wow.

We met six years ago during a turbulent time in my life. My brother, Matthew, and a mutual friend, Jeremy (who’s since crafted our engagement ring and wedding bands), used to work together at a neighborhood restaurant where Marta and I would occasionally bump into one another. I could never, for the life of me, remember her name, but always enjoyed talking with her. It’s Marta, after all. How could you not enjoy talking to her?

One gorgeous day in late June, Marta, Jeremy, and I spent the afternoon at Montrose Beach (by this time, I’m happy to report, I’d learned her name, though I’d soon realize that my “Mar-ta” pronunciation was unique). We played Frisbee. We lay in the sun. We even looked after a youngster whose dad told him to “stay and play with these people” as he disappeared for several minutes (a favorite memory of the day). And after packing up our camp and heading home, we reconvened some time later at Marta’s apartment for dinner. While Jeremy expertly grilled our steak on the deck, Marta and I cooked together indoors. She made risotto, I sauteed asparagus and portabellas. I’m pretty sure we were both stealing glances at one another, thinking, “This girl/guy is pretty cool.”

And so it began.

Marta was very patient with me those first few months. I was still gun shy after exiting a six-year relationship with my college girlfriend, and it took me a while to feel comfortable opening myself up again. I wanted to be sure, but when in life do we ever have that luxury? Marta endured several months of my waffling before I finally realized that everything was okay. That we didn’t need to know how things would work out down the road in order to enjoy the journey today.

A year after we met, we moved into our first apartment together. It was great. Marta has learned to deal with my pickiness (okay, my borderline OCD, but you didn’t hear that from me!), and I’ve gotten better at compromising. And we’ve both learned that while we absolutely love spending time with one another, some things are just better done solo. I shop for groceries while Marta cleans. And when we fly, we meet at the gate now. Hey, when you recognize flash points, why not avoid them? (Did I mention I’m fussy?)

We loved our first apartment and met two of our (now) best friends, Caitlin and Keith, when they moved in across the hall. One of our favorite jokes was to tell each other “Get home safely,” when we’d say goodbye. Yeah, those three steps across the landing can be risky… We’d probably still be living there if it hadn’t been for the herd of elephants – er, family – that moved in upstairs. Good grief. Reluctantly, we packed up and moved – two blocks away on the same street! I’ve never lived at two different addresses on the same street before, but there’s a first time for everything. Our new apartment became home even though we sure do miss living across the hall from C&K!

Two years ago, Marta began traveling more regularly for work. Overnights to Minneapolis, longer trips to Seattle, Tennessee, Las Vegas, and Miami. I’ve gotten used to these trips now, but at first it was difficult. I missed her a lot when she was gone, and that’s when I realized that I really couldn’t imagine living the rest of my life without her. I didn’t want to imagine it. Things had never been perfect for us, but I knew then that Marta was the woman for me. I wanted to be her partner, to commit not only to relishing the good times, but to working through the difficult ones. I wanted to continue this journey with her.

I reached out to Jeremy, now a metalsmith and GG (graduate gemologist) based in Seattle, and together we began working on ideas for a ring. At first I told no one, figuring that if I couldn’t keep my own mouth shut, I couldn’t very well expect anyone else to. Then, when we visited Marta’s parents for Father’s Day, I stole a moment with Bob, her step-father, and told him my intentions. He was thrilled, but made me promise that I would tell Sherri, too, before we left. “You have to tell her when Marta’s not around, though,” he said. “She will start crying.” So I concocted a plan to run back into the house as we were leaving on Sunday, and sure enough, the waterworks started when I told her. She gave me a huge hug. I’d always felt like part of the family, but this made it official.

That summer, Jeremy and I must have exchanged zillions of e-mails and phone calls, reviewing CAD renderings of the ring, talking about tweaks, organizing wire transfers of funds so that he could source the stones and metal. Finally I got the call the last week of August: “Done!” A week later we were in Seattle for a planned visit, and when I saw the ring for the first time, I was blown away. Absolutely stunning.

The thing practically burned a hole in my pocket. I managed to wait a whopping four days, then planned a dinner out at Caro Mio, our favorite Italian joint, and a walk through our neighborhood park afterwards. With the moon shining down, standing together in a place important to us both, I asked Marta to marry me. She said, “Shut up!” followed quickly by “Yes!”

And now, nineteen months later, our wedding is right around the corner. I couldn’t be more excited to marry this woman – my best friend and partner – and begin our next chapter together. I know how lucky I am to have her in my life, just as I’m lucky to have such wonderful family and friends. You all make life worth living, and I cannot wait to celebrate with you on April 27th as I put the “ring of ownership” on Marta’s finger. =P

Sure do love you, sweetie!


Checking in after a long absence

Two years have flown by so fast it’s scary.

I completed the draft of my first novel – a sci/fi thriller called Bent – last fall. Writing it, while incredibly gratifying, was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. The writing, itself, wasn’t hard. That’s not to say I didn’t toil over some scenes until my eyes went blurry, but the true challenge was sustaining my spirits over the course of the eighteen months it took to complete. Some days I was awash with confidence, certain that I was penning the next chart-topper. Other days I knew without a doubt that whatever drivel I’d managed to spout up to that point would never see the light of day, consigned to some literary purgatory far, far from any eager readers. The highs were great; the lows excruciating.

Yet on I wrote, one word after another, weaving sentences into paragraphs, pages into chapters, until, at last, on September 7, I wrote the final two words every author longs to see at the bottom of the page: the end.

After letting it marinate for a month (thanks for that suggestion, Stephen King!), I began revising. Those who know me are aware that I harbor an irrational fear of the revision process, dating back to high school when I was required to chop a twenty-page paper to ten – the most difficult writing assignment I ever undertook (until Bent, of course). Consequently, I wrote my draft with painstaking slowness, hoping that I was nailing every word so that I wouldn’t have to revise a thing. Yeah, that didn’t work.

To my surprise, I really enjoyed revising, and I can laugh now when I remember how frightened I was to begin. Between October and December, I chopped nearly 25k words (of the original 130k) from the draft while cleaning, polishing, and reworking the parts that remained. Just before Christmas, satisfied that I’d whipped it into shape, I printed five copies for my first beta readers. Up until that point, no one had read a word. Nerve-wracking!

Initial response has been very positive. I’ve fielded a number of helpful criticisms, some of which I implemented, some of which I filed away as “that’s interesting, but I don’t think I’m going to use it.” For the most part, I just wanted to know whether the story was entertaining and the characters believable. From the feedback I received, the answer is yes.

In January I began working on my query letter (for those who aren’t familiar, this is a one-page pitch to literary agents consisting of a high-level synopsis of the story, an introduction to me as the author, and an explanation of why I’m contacting that specific agent for representation). I soon discovered that this little one-page letter was, in many ways, more difficult to write than the book itself. When you have 350 pages to make an impression, there’s not nearly as much pressure to make each and every word pop as there is when you’ve got one lonely page to sell yourself and your work. I joined an online forum and got some great feedback which helped me hone my query into a sharp little missile of self-promotion, then began sending it out.

Just when I thought I’d jumped through the last hoop, I discovered that many agents also request a detailed plot synopsis (yeah, try condensing an entire novel into a page or two while maintaining narrative voice) and author bio. Back to the drawing board I went and produced these two additional submission samples.

I’ve now queried nine agents, received three rejections and one request for a partial manuscript for further review. Upon receiving the first rejection, I could scarcely contain my excitement. Many agents have a “if we’re not interested, we won’t reply” statement on their websites, so the fact that someone took the time to write back and say “thanks but no thanks” was incredibly validating. I’d been noticed! You can imagine how excited I was when an agent e-mailed me to tell me how intriguing my premise was, asking to see more. So the waiting game continues. Nothing moves particularly fast in this business and I’m just going to have to deal with that. But damn it, I want to know! Meanwhile, I’m continuing to search for agents and sending out additional submissions. After all, John Grisham received something like 28 rejections for A Time to Kill before someone finally bit. And J.K. Rowling only made it when an agent’s daughter picked up the manuscript he’d brought home, read the first three chapters, and promptly asked for the rest. You just never know when lightning will strike.

And last week, I began my next project, another sci-fi/thriller tentatively called Time Lapse. Regardless of what happens with Bent, I’m moving forward, pursuing my passion. What more can I ask for?

I intend to make regular updates to this blog now, describing my progress, thoughts, and challenges as I write Time Lapse while also tracking my attempt to publish Bent. I hope you find this interesting and will follow along with me. Please feel free to share this link, too, with anyone you believe might enjoy it.

Off I go!


A drink for the ages

Not that long ago, I was a Budweiser kinda guy. It wasn’t until Matthew and Jim started introducing me to IPA’s, Belgians, stouts, porters, etc. that I realized just how provincial my taste in beer had been. These days, the breadth of brews available to the average consumer is astounding. Beers are available at my local corner store from all over the country and, indeed, the world. It’s a far cry from the days when Milwaukee and St. Louis dominated the domestic market. Of course, the beheamoths are still standing, but micro- and craft-brewers are enjoying amazing success as the word spreads that beer is for the snobs, too.

As my tastes have developed, I’ve also started dabbling in single malt scotch and, to a lesser extent, sipping tequila. While beer is the new kid on the block when it comes to a respected alcoholic beverage, scotch has arguably been considered the pinnacle of spirits for generations. It’s easy to envision, while sipping on a deliciously peaty dram, the gentlemen of yore dressed to the nines, gathered in a dimly-lit smoking room enjoying a fine cigar and a snifter of scotch.

Part of my attraction to scotch, besides enjoying the complex layers of flavors, is that it is relatively affordable when compared to wine of similar vintage. I like the idea of drinking a glass of scotch that was distilled before I was born, knowing that it spent the past 2-3 decades undisturbed in an oak cask in a cool, dark, Scotish distillery. With each sip, not only am I immersed in a bouquet of flavors ranging from vanilla, toffee, marmalade, leather, peatsmoke, pineapple, cinnamon, and so on, but I also contemplate the events that occurred while that scotch lay dormant, waiting to fill my glass. I imagine what I was doing the day it was distilled (if, in fact, I was even alive!). I think about the places I’ve been, people I’ve met, and experiences I’ve had while my drink was aging, maturing, and becoming a singular masterpiece in a bottle. I suppose these thoughts appeal to my sentimental nature.

So to me, a glass of scotch is much more than a tasty beverage. It is a means of connecting to the past and to a far-off place that I may never visit, but of which I may enjoy a small part.

Gee but it’s great to be back home…

For nearly eight and a half years, I’ve lived 1,000 miles from home.

After all that time, New Hampshire is still home in my mind and heart, as I imagine it will always be in many ways. I often wonder what other people think and feel when they reflect on the meaning of home, for I believe my family and I have had a unique and wonderful opportunity to experience a deep sense of connection and belonging to the place we call home by virtue of our tradition and longevity. The farm is not just a place, but rather a member of our family, replete with 380 years of history and memories. It shares its story with me every time I visit, not through spoken language, but by subtler means: a breeze whispering through rows of corn, the smell of freshly harrowed earth, or the crunch of frost beneath my boots as I traverse the pasture below my grandparents’ house.


Now, I experience the strongest connection to the place and all its history on my late-night (or early-morning, as the case may be) walks from my grandparents’ to my mom’s, and this always reminds me of Grandpa once saying: “I get my religion watching the sun come up in the cornfield.” I imagine him cutting lettuce or digging carrots early in the morning, dew clinging to the tender leaves, the silence broken only by sparrows and crows taking flight, as he continues along the path that nine generations of Tuttles blazed before him. And in my own way, as I walk alone through the delicate early-morning silence on the farm, I find a religion of sorts as I marvel at the sheer magnitude of all that came before me and that which, even now, allows me to revel in these moments of joy and wonder.

When I left NH to “head west young man, head west,” I reached Grinnell with equal parts excitement and trepidation. My application essay (which I lament has been lost) told the story of a boy who loved his home, but who now hoped to bloom into a man by exploring the world in the newer, larger cornfields of Iowa. Indeed, my years at Grinnell altered my trajectory in ways which will, no doubt, continue to manifest themselves throughout my life (If in no other way, at least by allowing me the small pleasure of facetiously responding, “Childhood dream” to the query: “How did you end up at school in Iowa?”). Though my intention always was to return to NH and become involved in the farm and business, it was important for me to find my own place and purpose in the world, to test myself.

The ink still wet on my Anthropology degree, I moved to Chicago, the City of Big Shoulders, land of deepdish pizza and those “loveable losers” the Cubs, in August of 2002. What an adventure! Lucy and I found a small apartment, I got a job selling cars, and I imagined that living in Chicago would be exciting for a year or two before I returned home to begin building a life for myself on the farm. Of course, a year or two turned into a few years, which turned into five, which now has turned into the better part of a decade. I’m currently working my 5th job, living in my 5th apartment, and (phew!) only on my 2nd girlfriend, but Chicago has, over the years, become a familiar and comfortable place to me. It’s become my adoptive home as I’ve built a relationship with Marta, cultivated many close friendships, and started a career.

In October, 2009, I learned what I might have suspected for at least a year or two: that Mom and Uncle Will would, born of necessity, be listing the farm and store for sale within 6-12 months if business didn’t stage a dramatic about-face. We had all known, I think, that a tipping point was approaching, but this notion only became “real” to me when Mom and Will sat me down one afternoon in the tractor shed to tell me just how bad things had gotten. My mind churned constantly for the next few months trying to think of something – anything – that would forestall the loss of the farm and the traditions our family has built upon it. No small amount of that time was spent second-guessing myself, asking myself what might have been different if I had returned or even if I had never left. Would I have been able to prevent this? Could I have saved the farm? There are some questions life puts to us that may never be answered – questions like these. I will never know if I could have made a difference, but I will always wonder.

As I sat at Grandpa’s bedside on a cold December evening in 2002, looking upon the shell of a man who had always been a hero to me, I spoke to him privately of how important the farm was to me, how fortunate I felt to be part of something so meaningful, and how proud I was to be his grandson. That night, I promised him I’d return one day and find my place as part of our family’s nearly four-century tradition. This was not a commitment I took lightly, but I knew then, as I’d always known, that my purpose and future were intertwined with the ancestors my grandfather would soon join. Grandpa died later that night, and now that the sale of the farm is inevitable, I will never have the opportunity to fulfill the promise I made to him. I am certain, though, that Grandpa will forgive me, because in spite of the concern he undoubtedly felt about the farm’s future, I know that his children and grandchildren’s happiness was more important to him than the continuation of a tradition which was already fading when he passed.


A yellowed newspaper clipping on my old bedroom door reads: “Gee but it’s great to be back home…home is where I want to be,” a snippet from an old Simon and Garfunkel song hung there by Mom when I returned from St. Paul’s in 1993, a scared and homesick high school freshman. I’ve lived 1,000 miles from home for eight and a half years, but the farm will always be my home whether the name “Tuttle” is on the deed or if, after this incredible run, a new name is signed on the dotted line. We have all made lives, some on the farm, some far from it, but because of our shared origins – our home – we will always be a part of something much larger than ourselves. And that can never be taken from us.