Critique Group for Writers – Help Yourself and Others

A critique group for writers is a luxury I have missed.  Since the pandemic, my group has not met for over six months, and I miss them all.  I have been an active member of the Lesser North Texas Writers’ Group for a little over nine years.  My experience with them has exponentially improved my writing skills and helped me to see my work through other’s eyes.  I have completed reading all three of my novels, and they have been very helpful in honing my voice.

Picking the Right Group – This is critical to your success as a writer.  You want a group that will nurture while at the same time doesn’t coddle you.  This is a delicate balance as you have to be honest yet not hurtful.

Develop a Thick Skin – Here is the hardest part.  Accept negative criticism with grace.  In our group we recommend a hard copy be provided so that marks for grammar and comments can be given.  Time permitting each person in the group will give a verbal summary of their thoughts.  Sometimes the reaction of the group may not be what you’re expecting, but remember it is representative of another reader’s thoughts which is the exact reason you write–for others to read.  Now maybe you feel that those people are not your target audience, but the critique is still valid.  The challenge is to let their comments simmer.  Take some time away from the chapter you wrote and then look at it with new eyes.  Most times you will find the critique has value.

Take What You Want – This is a case where you have a variety of reviewers which gives you a range of potential readers.  You can determine who from the group is not your target audience.  You can choose to prioritize other reviewers remarks before theirs.  Also remember that with hard copies you can always get grammatical or typographical suggestions.  Even if someone is not your target audience, they can spot problems and logical disconnects.  Which means: everyone’s critique has value.

Don’t Change Just Cause Someone Says So– Sometimes a writer can get confused with all the suggestions from their critique group.  Take all of it and think about it.  Don’t believe you must update your chapter to appease all the reviews.  Remember your target audience.  Remember that you are the god of your story.  And as god, you can decide whether to adjust your writing to fit things together as you believe.

Karma: Help Others While Helping Yourself – At times, I will read something and think, “I can write better than this”.  But most others times, I realize that OMG there’s so much work I have to do with my craft.  I can’t stop.  I have to keep pushing forward.  Critique groups help you mature quicker as a writer .  You can’t write in a vacuum.

Be Polite and Helpful – Remember to critique but not bash your fellow critique member.  If time is tight, speak to the bigger things and mark the little ones like: Grammar, POV, Tense, Passive Voice, Echos, etc.

Writing Must be a Verb First Before it can Ever be a Noun – No one can critique a blank sheet of paper.  You have to get it out of your head and onto the page.

Cobra Kai – An Exercise in Writing Villains

“The Karate Kid” franchise is perfect example of writing villains. I recently got the opportunity to watch, NETFLIX’s “Cobra Kai”, the sequel series to the 1984 hit movie, “The Karate Kid.” It was a fun trip down memory lane. The characters again enter into each other’s gravitational field and circle each other in combat.

When I watched the movie, “The Karate Kid”, it was clear that Johnny was the bad guy and Daniel was the hero. After watching Cobra Kai Season 1 and 2, I got an entirely different perspective. Johnny perceives Daniel as the villain.

Recap from Johnny’s Perspective

1. Daniel makes a move on his girlfriend, Ali. Johnny steps in and attempts to get Daniel to back off with a little shoving. Daniel punches Johnny in the face. Game on, and Johnny smacks Daniel down. Johnny loses Ali.

2. Later at the Halloween Dance, Daniel feels compelled to turn on a hose, dowsing Johnny in a bathroom stall. Johnny and his friends chase Daniel down a hill and trap him in a fenced area near his apartment complex. While Johnny administers the beating Johnny believes Daniel deserves, Daniel’s neighbor, Mr. Miyagi, steps in and thwarts Johnny and his underage friends.

3. Johnny respectfully leaves Daniel alone while he trains for the All Valley Karate Tournament. Johnny gets lucky and Daniel faces him in the finals. Finally, he gets his revenge. Johnny regrets sweeping Daniel’s hurt leg, but Johnny’s only obeying his sensei. Daniel then does an illegal Crane kick to Johnny’s head and wins the match, making Daniel the champion. Regardless, Johnny remains the good guy and congratulates Daniel on the win.

Johnny’s POV in his own words.

Flash Forward to Cobra Kai

The “Cobra Kai” series begins thirty four years later with Johnny as a beer guzzling, newly unemployed handyman. The loss to Daniel all those years ago sent Johnny on a downward spiral. He is at rock bottom. In a reversal of roles, he becomes a Miyagi-like character and saves his nerdy apartment neighbor from school bullies. The experience makes Johnny realize that he misses the discipline and confidence his training gave him. He decides to resurrect the Cobra Kai school.

Daniel believes he cannot allow Cobra Kai to infest the minds of new students and does some villain-type moves to destroy it. I won’t spoil the series, but this is essentially the set up.

Application to Writing Villains

Why is this interesting? Writers are told that to write a believable villain, you must make them three dimensional. They can’t be just crazy. Crazy has only two dimensions. Crazy is flat and boring. The villain must believe their actions are justified. They are only doing what is required for their character to survive. The best villains must view themselves as the hero of their story.

“Cobra Kai” allows this duality to come into the forefront. Both Johnny and Daniel are heroes. Both of them are also human, so they have parts of themselves that are less than heroic. If they could visualize themselves through each other’s eyes, then they might become friends. This makes the NETFLIX series work. The viewer wants them to become allies, but fate and thirty-four years of bad history makes this a difficult proposition. Besides, conflict drives the story, and without it, there is no need for Season 3.

Both of these characters reside in grey areas, neither exists completely in darkness nor light. The series is fun and entertaining. I believe the key to its success is the writing team, who have created a complicated and multi-layered world. If you enjoy writing, and want an example about writing villains, then check out “Cobra Kai”.

Looking forward to Season 3.

Saint Jim – Published: January 7, 2017

Buy Saint Jim on Amazon

On Sale Now on Amazon – Click the Book Cover

What is Saint Jim About?

( Book Jacket Text )

Jim is a homeless addict. His drug of choice is healing people. But a gift bestowed can have a mind of its own. For some, he may only see colors, but when the disease manifests itself as an entity, then he’s compelled to action.

Each time his compulsion to heal overtakes him, it drives him further into a spotlight he wants to avoid. The Reverend Baxter, by mistake, believes he’s healed a dying boy at the shelter, and it pulls Jim in deeper.

Jim’s brilliant idea to be the reverend’s assistant, will give him access to all the desperate people seeking miracles. Fame and power may consume everything.

Writing Saint Jim

In the Summer of 2009, I began my writing journey. I had several ideas in my head, but the one that jumped out and grabbed me was about a homeless man with an addiction to heal people. I started Saint Jim with a first chapter that read more like a short story. Next, I strung the following chapters along as continuation of the previous ones. The story and the characters began to drive themselves. This is the kind of magic you hear about and great to experience. I kept the whole project secret until the Fall because I didn’t want to tell anybody until I knew I could actually finish it.

I completed the novel. almost a year later in my spare time,  My writing critique group and beta readers gave me feedback. What I found was the magic was just beans. Magic beans, but beans none the less. The story worked, but it was full of passive voice, clichés, and disconnected plot points. Now, I had to plant those beans and carefully nurture them to germinate, take root, and emerge from the dirt. Another year passed of edits, beta readers, more edits, some more edits, and endless polishing.

Publishing Saint Jim

With a complete manuscript, I moved to getting it published. I sent query letters to literary agents to see if I could entice just one to ask for a partial or full copy of the manuscript.  Nothing really came from it. The novel got set to the side, and I started my second.  Agents say they want authors who have multiple novels in their pocket, so I finished my second novel and began my third.  All the while, I continued with the traditional publishing route through queries and agents in what seemed to be an endless circle.

I toyed with the idea of self publishing a couple of years ago. It stalled because I enjoyed writing too much. Then I realized, what’s the use of writing something if nobody can ever read it. My fellow writers were self publishing, so I created a cover, got a copy-edit of the manuscript, and read this book again and again until it made me sick. I tried my best to scrutinize the details to deliver a quality product in both paperback and Kindle editions for Amazon.

Marketing Saint Jim

The paperback minimum price I could sell it was $8.72 so I rounded it up to $8.99. The minimum price for the Kindle Edition to be part of the KDP marketing with Amazon was $2.99, so I set it to that price. If you purchase the book, then the Kindle version is free.

The journey was long and full of frustrating turns, but I finally have completed this leg of the race. It’s all been a learning process. I’m still not finished as I have to figure out the marketing portion of this equation. More work to do. This post is the first step.

Buy it Now from Amazon

Saint Jim – A Droste Effect Press Original

The Homeless Are Among Us

What I’m Writing …

I am getting ready to self publish my first novel, SAINT JIM, within the next month. I believe it’s good enough, but finding an agent to represent it is difficult for an unknown author. Currently it’s with an editor going through a Copy Edit run to make sure all the typos are culled from it.  The novel is about a homeless addict.  His drug of choice is healing people.  He is bestowed the gift of healing and sees auras on those that need his gift, but when an entity appears in, on, or around people in need, it compels him to action.  He hears a voice in his head saying, “Help Them.”


So A Few Weeks Ago …

I had stopped at a local store to pick up something to eat on the way to work.  I noticed a couple of guys talking.  Upon leaving, one of the two, a high school kid, was passing me while telling the other that he had no cash but would pick up some food.  I glanced more closely at the guy.  He was wearing ratty coveralls.  We made eye contact.  Damn.

“Excuse me,  I need a ride … ” he said softly. I pretended not to hear him and got into my car.  He ran up the passenger window and waved and I shrugged my shoulders and pulled out and left.  I almost got out of the parking lot and I felt this pull on me.  It was almost like in my novel.  Don’t  know if it was my conscience or God or guilt that intervened, but I felt a force saying, “Help him.”

I pulled back into the lot and drove back to the store where he stood getting the food from the kid.  I pulled into the parking space and waved the guy to the passenger side.  He said he needed to get to a cross-street near the Tollway, because that’s where his stuff was. I thought about for a second and my gut instincts said he was harmless.  I told him to get in.

On the drive there he told me his name was Brett.  He had come back down to this area to get his coveralls because the weather was changing and he didn’t want to get caught in the cold,   I asked him if downtown had some shelters he could stay in.  Brett said that he rather be homeless in North Dallas. The homeless in downtown were hardcore and some were into drugs, and he did not need that temptation.

Brett mentioned that others had told him he was too young to be homeless.  I figured him for about twenty-four close-cropped hair and clean-shaven.  Unknown to him, he pointed to my neighborhood as we passed it, and said he used to live there.  He rattled off the names of my children’s elementary, middle, and high schools.  He continued saying that he had no family.  His grandparents had died and his parents had written him off.  His brother had got out of jail and he hoped he could team up together to get off the streets, but his brother was caught up in drugs now, too.

Being on the street was tougher than he thought.  He mentioned that he had to be careful to eat properly and drink plenty of water,  The ride was greatly appreciated and told me it made his day, because he said it would have ordinarily taken all day to walk it. I gave Brett whatever cash I had, and he left my car with a smile on his face.

We are all sinners and saints.  It depends on which voice we want to listen.  I have guilt about my initial reaction.  I was a jerk.  We can remain afraid and do nothing, or we can extend our humanity to others.  If a child is crying alone on the street, most of us would stop to help them. Homeless people cry out, but not in the same obvious way as children. They have emotions mixed with pride, shame, and helplessness that debilitate them. Sometimes a kind word, a sympathetic ear, and a few dollars are all that is required to make their day.

Don’t forget that they are out there.  They are not relegated to just downtown/urban areas. They are in the suburbs and may have once been your neighbors.  We are entering the season of giving.  We can all work to be more like saints and try not to ignore them.

I searched on “homeless in suburbs” and got this as the second hit in the list:
Hidden Homeless Grow in Number in North Texas Suburbs – Dallas Morning News

Is Tolerance Enough?


Tolerance For All

Tolerance For All

I read a story about a family reunion at a California campground being terrorized by a man threatening them with what appeared to be a shotgun and yelling racial slurs. The community there  established a GoFundMe page for the family and staged a protest to make sure that the world outside their community knew that this one jerk didn’t represent them. USAToday Article

One protester had a sign saying, “Tolerance For All” and said things like, “If you can’t tolerate people having a good time …  go home.”  The sentiment was pure, but being a wordsmith of a sort, I can’t help believing that we are using the wrong word, here.  “Word Choice” ( WC ) as my critique group would write on the page.

This is only one example of what is out there and I’ve seen it applied several times to people of other religions, race, or sexual orientation.  And it continues to bother me.

If I told a complete stranger that I tolerate them, do you think they would feel all warm and cozy with me in their presence?

If I told a Muslim friend that I tolerate his/her religion, would they be comfortable discussing their faith with me?

Declaring to a co-worker of a different race that I tolerate them, will that give them a sense of inclusion to my work family?

When someone comes out and reveals that they are gay, and I tell them that I tolerate that, will they trust me?

The answer is: no, No, NO and Hell No.  Tolerance is not enough and it is not the right word.  I believe it should be, Acceptance.

Acceptance for All

What’s wrong with saying that you accept someone’s faith, race, or orientation.  I am not saying that you claim to understand them.  I’m just saying that we accept, consider, and include their right to express their ideas and thoughts into our everyday lives.  Acceptance does not give anyone the right to infringe upon your right to pursue your own happiness.  It just means that if someone else is different from you and not hurting you, then accept them into your heart.

To tolerate someone I believe falls short of the mark. The world will be a better place if we accept more than we tolerate.

Chicago ’71 – Short Story

After “Chicago ’71” was published upon winning the 2014 Grand Prize at the Texas Writers Journal, the rights reverted back to me.  I just have to provide a first publication credit to TWJ.  So here is the link and credit to the piece for those who are interested:

CHICAGO ’71 – Duke Droste

NOTE: I’ve been asked what is history and what is family lore.  The story is a collection of historical facts about how families survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  Parts that are mixed in from family stories passed down to me:
– Herman was my Great Great Grandfather.
– A canary was found and kept in a jar.
– The furniture was buried in the dunes.
– The oriental rug was a fixture of my Grandmother’s house for a long as I can remember.

Chicago ’71 Wins Grand Prize for Texas Writers Journal

I was just notified today by the Texas Writers Journal that my short story, “Chicago ’71” was selected as the Grand Prize Winner for 2014.  The piece was selected for the quarterly publication in July which made it a finalist for the 2014 Annual Competition.

TWJ is only for Texas writers, and I’m really honored that my short story was selected by them as their annual winner.  It helps to receive validation that one’s writing has merit.

Chicago ’71 is a historical fiction based on family stories passed to me from my mom’s side of the family who survived the Great Chicago Fire of 1871.  I mixed it with research I did on the fire, how it spread through the city, and what some people did to survive.

The prize is $500, Award Certificate, a year’s subscription, and a copy of the 2014 Annual publication.  I’m really excited. This is the first time I have received actual money for my writing.

Check out my Bio at TWJ

Texas Writers Journal's Grand Prize Winner for 2014

Five Whys versus Five Y’s

Five Whys versus Five Y's

The concept of Five Whys is for quality analysis and finding the root cause of a problem. Let’s take a software defect. You find the first “Why” for the bug.  Maybe it’s a missing test case. The second “Why” derives off the first so you ask why was the test case missed?  The answer might be that the test case was missing because you didn’t understand that your software feature interacted with another feature.  Once you go five levels deep on your “Why” analysis, you should find the true root cause of the issue.  I’m also a software development manager and quality of the product is paramount. Understanding how the bugs get there in the first place lets you catch them earlier in the process.  Once they get into the field they are exponentially more expensive.

It got me thinking that you could apply these same principles to your personal life.  For example let’s just say you are unfulfilled with your job.  You might go through this process and realize at the fifth “Why” that it was your choice of major to study or that you wish you had gone to different university.  You could use this analysis and figure out the root cause of things you don’t like about yourself.  Now for most people this may be a depressing exercise because it dwells solely on the past.

I had a thought about the reverse effect.  What if you looked forward but instead of using “Whys”, we use the Five “Y’s”. To me a “Y” is a fork in the road; a place to make a decision.  What if I looked at each decision each day and wondered what might be the outcome of my choice.  Let’s take my wife. ( Yes, take her please – Henny Youngman ) No, seriously, let’s say she asked me to help her with something.  First “Y”. I have the choice to say yes or no. Maybe I’m tired and I say no. The Second “Y” might bring me to an argument with her.  She may be hurt that I wasn’t willing to help, but now she’s hurt by something I said, because I chose (Third “Y”) to say the wrong thing in the heat of the moment.  ( Hey, I’m a guy.  It goes with the territory ).  Now, she asks me to sleep on the couch.  I could choose to apologize or sleep on the couch. Fourth “Y”.  My pride forces me to choose the couch which is not very comfortable.  Let’s say I get a crick in my neck from an uncomfortable night’s sleep and I don’t notice the step down in the den and fall, breaking my leg. Fifth “Y”.

The moral for me is to make better decisions in life and hopefully it will lead to a more fulfillment and enjoyment during my journey   A corollary lesson: Don’t piss off your wife or you’ll get your leg broke.


Chicago ’71 – The Texas Writers Journal

Just wanted to announce that I got a new publishing credit.  My historical fiction short story of the Great Chicago Fire, “Chicago ’71” was chosen for the quarterly publication in the Texas Writers Journal for July and is eligible as a finalist for the overall winner of 2014.

The story is based on family lore handed down through my mother’s side about the Chicago Fire of 1871.  I mixed it with research I did on the fire, how it spread through the city, and what some people did to survive.

I’m excited about getting a new publishing credit to add to my bio for my agent queries about my YA paranormal/fantasy novel, “Dream Across This Mortal Coil”. Every little bit helps.  The following link is an Author’s Bio on the TWJ website with links to other published works. Duke Droste Bio

Chicago '71 - Texas Writers Journal

Dream Across This Mortal Coil


This is my second novel.  I have finished my second draft and will soon send this out for beta readers. Still working the query/synopsis below, but here is a start.   I have updated it, so take a look:


Fifteen-year-old Lucinda is always awake in dreams.  Once a sanctuary, her dream world makes a dramatic shift and twists out of control, blurring the line between sleeping and waking—maybe even sanity.

It’s hard enough being a high school sophomore without being the girl who nods off during Spanish and wakes up screaming on the classroom floor. Lucinda fights for normalcy, but her dream reality has other ideas as unwelcome guests bleed over from the other side, wrecking her social life.  Her only comfort is seeing glimpses of her mother’s soul.

David, a boy from her dreams, introduces Lucinda to others, who claim they will teach her to control these nightmares.  They remain wary.  Her homegrown abilities and her lack of training makes Lucinda the equivalent of a toddler playing with a loaded gun, and anyone in either of her realities could get hurt.

She’s torn between balancing the intricate life of a high school student with the complex realm of her dreams.  When her powers make a quantum leap, warring factions in her dream world compete for her allegiance.  She is a weapon, but for which side?

DREAM ACROSS THIS MORTAL COIL is a YA contemporary fantasy novel with a metaphysical bite, complete at 80,000 words.  I’d compare my potential audience to readers of “The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer”, “The Iron King” with a slice of “WICKED”.  I’ve been an active member of the Lesser North Texas Writers for over three years.  This is my second novel.  I’ve written several short stories.  Three are currently published: “Medium Medium” at Dark Media Online and “Lotto Man” at the Nautilus Engine.  “Chicago ‘71” is an annual finalist selected for publication in The Texas Writers Journal, appearing in the July 2014 quarterly issue.


Life Rules of Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump

Forrest Gump – Letting the Wind Guide Him

Forrest Gump is making the rounds on cable again .  It has been awhile since I’ve seen the film, and I found myself mesmerized and pulled into its cinematic vortex.  Around the house, I start talking like him  to my family, and it cracks them up.  Later, I realized as I imitated his words that I wished that I could embody more of his attitude and spirit.

It got me to think that if Forrest could sum up his rules for life, what would they be?

1. … Life is Like a Box of Chocolates: You Never Know What You’re Going to Get – This is the essential quote from the movie and explains the core belief system that Forrest lives by.  You take what’s given in life and do your best.  If you’re like me, then anything chocolate is good.  I know that some choices in the box may be better than others, but hey, it’s all chocolate.

2. Keep your Eye on the Ball – To succeed in ping-pong or the shrimping business, Forrest knew to never take his eye of the proverbial ball.  His channeled an obsessed focus on what he enjoyed or believed, and in return it allowed him to transcend his mental shortcomings.

3. Love Your Family – Forrest loved his mother dearly.  She was the guiding force that drove him to see that life had some truly beautiful things to offer.  He realized that he was her whole world.  When Forrest met his son for the first time, he openly cried.  He asked if his son was smart.  Forrest’s limitations were clear to him and he did his best, but his love for family was paramount.

4. Be Loyal to Your Friends – This one come through loud and clear.  Forrest was fiercely loyal to those people in his life that he determined were his friends.  He ran out into an active battlefield to retrieve his best friend, Bubba.   When called upon to help his fellow comrades, he couldn’t let their cries for help go unheard.  Then later after Forrest established himself in his shrimping business, his friend, Bubba, was only a spiritual partner, and yet, Forrest took care of Bubba’s mother by giving her half of his share of the business.

5. Be Friendly No Matter How Disagreeable Those Around You May Be. ( See the Good in People Unless they Hurt the Love of Your Life, then You Pound Them ) – Forrest showed this best with Lieutenant Dan.  He saw beyond the pain and depressed spirit of the broken soldier that was his commander.  He allowed Lieutenant Dan to be angry and upset, but did not let his irascible behavior dull his dedication to him.  Forrest was his secret friend until Lieutenant Dan understood Forrest actually was his best friend.  But refer to rules number 2 and 3 if you decide slap Jenny, your Black Panther Party will get ruined.

6. Never Give up on Love – Forrest had his heart broke by Jenny time after time.  He knew his limitations in life, but his capacity for love was unflagging and unlimited.  In the end Jenny saw that quality and realized that he was the right man for her.

Conclusion: Regardless of the curve balls that life or fate handed him, Forrest took them in stride and endured certain difficult moments to arrive at those times in his life he could enjoy.  He fiercely held the promises he made to friends, the love for his family, and his undying dedication to his childhood sweetheart.  It wouldn’t hurt for all of us to live like Forrest Gump.

Jim Valvano: A Life of Inspiration

Jim Valvano giving his 1993 ESPY Speech

Jim Valvano at the 1993 ESPY Awards

I caught an episode of 30/30 that reviewed the 30th reunion of the 1983 N.C. State NCAA Championship. As I watched the show, it became clear that it also was a tribute to their coach, Jim Valvano.  The man had a gift to motivate and squeeze every bit of guts and determination from his players.  They all loved him.

It followed the team throughout the ACC championship and the March Madness of 1983.  His team came from behind multiple times and beat opponents that no one would have expected.  When they won it all, Sports Illustrated claimed it as the greatest college basketball moment of the 20th century.

As I watched, I was amazed at the man’s charisma and his gift of speech.  At the age of sixteen at a basketball camp, Valvano heard a speech from the Reverend Bob Richards, a pole vault Olympic golf medalist.  Richards looked over the group of kids and said, “The Lord must have loved ordinary people because he made so many of us.”  Valvano said he was sitting there thinking he was special and these words momentarily crushed him.  Then Richards gave the line that Valvano said had changed his life: “In every single day, in every walk of life, ordinary people do extraordinary things.  Ordinary People accomplish Extraordinary things.”

The following are some quotes from Jim Valvano to take with you into your daily life:

“There are three things we should do everyday.  Do this every day of our life.  Number one is laugh.  Number two, you should think.  You should spend some time in thought.  And number three, you should have your emotions moved to tears: could be happiness or joy.  Think about it.  If you laugh, you think, and you cry  That’s a full day.  That’s a heck of a day.  You do that seven days a week, you’re going to have something special.”

“My father gave me the greatest gift anyone could give another person, he believed in me.”

“Cancer can take away all of my physical abilities. It cannot touch my mind, it cannot touch my heart, and it cannot touch my soul.”

Jim Valvano fought hard in his battle to beat cancer. He lived a beautiful life and many wondered why such a life had to end. The Jimmy V Foundation he started has raised upwards of 100 million dollars for cancer research.  Through his death, the impact he made on those around him, and his foundation, he has extended and saved the lives of many others.

Here’s to Jim Valvano: An ordinary guy, who did extraordinary things with his life.  He inspires us all to do the same.

Click Here to view his ESPY Speech


Dad Is Bad

My son’s protest sign,
“Dad Is Bad”

In the picture my son is eight.  If you read the cardboard sign he’s holding, it says “Dad Is Bad” and was born out of a grievance he filed against me.  My wife and I prepared to sell our old house, and we decided to paint a short white fence that surrounded the flower garden in our front yard.  The boy wanted to help, but I wouldn’t let him because we were in a hurry to get a number of things done, so I didn’t want to spend the time to supervise a slop-fest of latex all over the bushes.

He was not pleased, and while we finished the paint job, he prepared this sign.  When I went around back to cleanup, I heard this chanting from the backyard.  I looked over the fence and saw my son standing on the top of his plastic fort holding the sign up to the street running along the side of our house and repeated his protest mantra, “Dad Is Bad”. The audacity: he was conducting a protest against his own paternal unit.

This was one of those moments as a parent that I made the right choice.  It made me laugh. I got him to come down, took a picture of him, and commended him for using his words like his mom and I had always taught him.  The result is we let him know that we were proud of him.  This picture is part of a collage on my desktop PC.  I noticed this recently and remembered this slice of family time in our lives.  It still makes me smile. My boy is turning eighteen later this April.  As a parent, I have faith that he will apply the lessons learned while he treads down his new path in adulthood.  Happy birthday, my civil disobedient son.


Meeting Your Novel’s Character in Real Life

Healing Hands

I am currently on the last revision of my first novel, SAINT JIM.  It has been a long road of culling passive sentences, removing useless words, fixing connection points, etc. I have read it so many times I think I have parts of it memorized.  The story is of a homeless man named, Jim, who develops an ability to heal.  He comes upon this gift by accident, but is reluctant to use it because he wants to remain anonymous.   The gift, however, has a mind of its own and compels him to help others–almost like an addiction.

I had completed the first draft of my novel in 2010 with all the places and characters complete and was in a hospital helping my wife as she recovered from a surgical procedure.  When I arrived at the refreshment area on that hospital floor to make my wife some tea, I found an older white-haired gentleman there in his patient gown getting some water.  I asked him how he was doing.

“I have my faith in the Lord,” was his response.

I found him interesting, so I struck up a conversation.  Now, understand that I never brought up my novel or healing in any way during our talk.  I asked why he was in the hospital, and he said that he had a cancer and was recovering–the Lord willing.  He volunteered that he had been reborn and even a healer at one point.  This caught my attention.

The gentleman told me that he had been given the gift of healing when he re-dedicated his life to the Lord after being away from the Church for a long time. He remarked that the power of healing was real and beautiful at the same time.  He claimed to have healed one particular man of some deadly disease.  He told the man that he would remain healed on the condition that the man turned from his dark path within a year.  The man was healed but a year later abruptly passed because he remained unrepentant.  The gentleman told me that he had lost this healing gift after he once again had a lapse in his faith.  He no longer could heal but his trust in the Lord remained strong, so he assured me he would be all right.

I asked that man his name.  Somehow I knew what he would say.  He said, “Jimmy.”

This gave me a small sign that maybe I should complete my latest revisions and somehow get it published. I never saw Jimmy again on that floor as my wife was released soon afterward.  That was two years ago and I’m thoroughly amazed, even now, that every time I read my latest draft that there is still some typo, unconnected detail, or polishing to be done.  The time has finally come though for me to wrap it up.  It’s like an old friend you spent a number of years with who’s moving away to another city.  I don’t want that relationship to end, but I have to give it up.  Who knows maybe we will reconnect someday.


The Reluctant Heroes

This summer’s Olympics brought a new set of heroes to the forefront.  Fierce gymnasts who hurled themselves into the air with what appeared to be reckless abandon, but represented hours of ritualistic repetition to perfect their routines.  Swimmers who flew through the water at break-neck speeds.  We saw a runner with no lower legs with the indomitable spirit of a champion to compete.  These are the heroes witnessed through the media’s eyes and to some we bestow our national pride.  They have worked hard and have earned that respect.

That said, there are a number of heroes that don’t get celebrated on a national level, but we recognize their sacrifice and the work they do.  Our armed forces represent those that sacrifice time from their families, physical injury, and risk the ultimate sacrifice of their lives.  They’re on the front lines to protect our country. Local, State, and Federal Police along with Fire Fighters risk their lives in similar ways internally to protect us.

But what about the reluctant heroes that walk among us?  The ones that if you put them on the spot and told them they were a hero, would wave that comment away as if you were talking crazy.

The single parent who plays two parental roles, struggles to make ends meet and still finds the strength raise their kids are heroes.  Maybe they’re not recognized by the any news organization, but the children who are old enough to understand their sacrifice know.

The teacher who has inspired generations of children to learn, instilled a sense of wonder, and challenged their students to step outside the boundaries of themselves and reach beyond what they believe they were capable.  Not every one of them are recognized, but any student that remembers those special teachers in their lives accepts them as heroes.

The person who doesn’t just talk about their religious faith, but lives it as an example to others every day.  These people are heroes and have the capacity to heal the souls of those around them.

Everyone of us have heroes that touch our lives everyday.  If you acknowledge their heroism, they may be reluctant to accept that mantle.  But if you take the time to recognize what they do for you and what they mean to you with heart-felt gratitude, the reluctant hero will always accept a hug.


Don’t Grow Up too Soon – James Taylor Knows the Secret


Child On Shoulders - James Taylor Knows the Secret

Walking through the mall the other day, I saw a father lift his child to his shoulders.  It brought back memories of my own children.  I can remember carrying them around on my shoulders and grasping their ankles to hold them tight, so they didn’t fall.  As they got older, they could balance better, and hold onto my forehead or around my neck.  Those were beautiful years.

Those days zip by so quickly. Someone told me to revel in every moment your child asks you to pick them up because one day they’ll stop asking.  I followed that counsel until my kids became too big and my arms too weak to lift over my head and set them on my shoulders.  I understand now, but it was also that I had NOTAS disease.  “NOT AS” Young as I used to be.

My son is a year from being an adult and my pre-teen daughter is growing up fast.  Sometimes too fast.  In this wonderful age of technology and information it’s hard to slow them down.  My advice to her was to enjoy being eleven and do as many girly things that she could.  Don’t worry about someone thinking that your acting immature.  If you want to play with dolls, then do it. 

I looked to the future and realized that before I knew it, they’ll be in college, starting their own lives, and moving on.  I couldn’t blink too long, or I’ll miss something.  Then it hit me. I should follow my own advice.  Not doing girly things, mind you, but try to live in the moment.  Enjoy my kids as they “are” and not how they “were” or how they’re “going to be”.

About this same time, one of my favorite James Taylor songs floated up in my mind.  The song is called, “Secret O’ Life”.  Certain lines of this song are so poignant and full of wisdom that I’ve played it whenever I’ve found myself worrying about the time I’ve lost or may lose.  Read some of these lines below, and take them out into the world with you:

“The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time.”
“The secret of love is opening up your heart.”
“And since we’re only here for a while. Might as well show some style.”
“The time about time is that time isn’t really real. It’s just your point of view.”
“Try not to try too hard.  It’s just a lovely ride.”

The full lyrics can be found <here>

 So for now, I’m settling for giving piggy-back rides; I can still do that.


Can God be Found in the Smaller Things?

During my research for my next novel, LUCID, I came across a concept that really got my mind rolling.

People have looked to the heavens and its large celestial bodies asking, “Is that where God is?”  Looking out into the universe the laws of physics are predictable.  The big things like stars and planets operate in measurable ways predicated by the laws of classical physics that have been laid down for hundreds of years.

When dealing with subatomic particles or quanta ( Light, Electrons, etc.), the world of physics becomes unpredictable.  This is modern physics, and scientists have only scratched its surface.  Quanta can exhibit properties of both a particle and a wave.  The curious thing is that when humans watch quanta they appear like particles, but when no one’s looking they move in waves.  There lies the dilemma for traditional scientists who operate within a cause/effect paradigm.  Scientist’s watch and report, however the sheer act of watching modifies the experiment.  Our consciousness appears to change the perception of what we try to observe.  An example of this is explained in the double slit experiment.  Thus, in quantum physics the scientist must confront the concept that they cannot separate themselves from the experiment as purely a spectator but must accept that they are a player within it.  Does consciousness somehow create reality?

At the quantum level, it’s suggested that places exist where there’s no past or future–only now.  Time doesn’t always move in a straight line. It may only appear to manifest itself in that manner because that’s the way we perceive it. Within this timelessness is where science struggles to break boundaries and understand the big “Whys” that humans have asked since our minds reached beyond our planetary foothold. Maybe it’s in here, within these smallest particles of matter and reality, that one can find the etchings of the divine.

Addendum (7-10-12):  I posted this a little too early.  In the first week of July 2012 Geneva reported that its Large Hadron Collider in CERN during its atom smashing experiments believe they have evidence of the God Particle.  This is the elusive Higgs Boson particle which scientists have searched for thirty years.  It is the particle that is supposed to provide mass.  Thus with mass you have gravity.  Without gravity then everything in the universe would just be a  thick soup of atoms.  Galaxies, suns, planets and humans would not exist.  See the article in National Geographic News.

Higgs Boson - The God Particle

Illustration by Moonrunner Design Ltd., National Geographic