I Now Have An Agent

It’s taken me a while to write this since I’ve been busy with novel revisions and starting a new job, but I now have an agent! I signed with Caitlin Blasdell of Liza Dawson Associates. She will be representing my bronze age epic fantasy novel about class war and sheep-pigs.

Writing novels is all I’ve wanted to do for pretty much my entire life, so you can imagine how excited I am. It still does not feel completely real. Of course, I still have to actually sell a book, but that suddenly seems like a much more realistic prospect than it ever has before. It has gone from dream to possibility, and the path from here to actuality is made up of work.

So back I go to work.

How I Learned I’m Not A Hero

[ Note: From 2008 to 2013, I kept a writing blog, which I then took down. Now that I am starting a new blog in 2018, I will be adding some older posts backdated to their original publication. Many of these were obviously written by a young, naive, perhaps foolish person, with prose ranging from overblown to just plain shitty, but they illustrate my journey as a writer and a person, so I think it is worth the embarrassment. ]

It was a late summer night a few weeks ago. It had just rained, and there was a wonderful ground mist lurking about ankle deep in the hollows and the fields. About 2 AM. For some reason, that kind of mist always reminds me of werewolves, probably from American Werewolf in London or perhaps the clips I’ve seen of that old movie Wolfman. In any case, it swirled in curls and eddies like milk in coffee, translucent beautiful and strange. I was driving home from my brother’s house, about a fifteen minute drive from the country to the country, one rural house to another. As I said, it had rained, and I was thinking as I drove down the hill that it was perfect weather for a car accident. The road I was on had just been paved, smooth black tar covered in that water and mist. It looked like a highway, not a country road. I don’t know why they paved it that way. Usually it’s the gray stuff, the cheap stuff, for country roads. Anyway, I was driving down this long hill and as I came to the bottom I saw ahead two lights in strange configuration, a canted angle like a car jacked way up on one side. But it wasn’t a car.

I slowed way down, and as I passed I saw it was actually two motorcycles, one of which was twisted and broken and resting on its side. But at the moment it didn’t look broken, it just looked laid there, like someone had set it there, and I remembered stories I had heard of people faking accidents so strangers would stop, then when you rolled down your window people came sprinting from the ditches to attack. That ran through my head, but I kind of doubted that was the case, and when the lady walked out into my headlights I knew it wasn’t. I stopped as she wondered back into the darkness, having passed the wreck, and I put it in reverse and surged backwards. Once I was about thirty feet behind the accident I put on my blinkers and parked the car. I had brought a flashlight to my brother’s because I knew I would be there late, and I took it from my pocket as I got out of the car, clicked it on. It swung on the asphalt ahead of me as I walked, but when I reached them I turned it off. Both the headlights were on on the bikes, even the broken one: in fact it was the one turned over that shined on the man in the ditch.

He was in a long patch of blood, having obviously slid in the grass from the force of the crash, and his friend, the other man in the group, knelt above him. There were four total, those two in the grass and the two women walking, one of which was scraped up in the face and had been on the  back of the bike. The other was on the phone, talking to the emergency operator. She didn’t know where they were, so she asked me. I knew where we were in relation to my house, but I didn’t know the road number. She gave me a road name I knew was wrong and asked me if it was right, and I said no. Then followed a fumbling exchange in which I proved how idiotic I am when it comes to directions. I kept saying things like:

“We’re—we’re para—no, we’re perpendicular to 26—” and she would repeat to the operator:

“We’re perpendicular to 26,” at which point I’d say:

“And we’re north of—no, no—we’re south, I mean east of—”

“We’re east of . . .”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “Let me call my brother, he lives right up the road.”

As I said, I was on my way home from my brother’s house, and I was only one turn away from his road, so I knew he would know the street name. But it was 2 AM, and I had actually gone to see a movie since I last saw him awake (a friend had dropped me off at my brother’s place, where I’d left my car) so I wasn’t sure if he was awake. The woman told the operator I was going to call my brother. As the phone rang, I looked back to the injured man with his friend. He was lying face down, not moving, but he was breathing every few seconds with these horrible gurgle-click sounds, and his friend kept asking, “Where are they?” to the woman on the phone, and she kept saying, “They’re coming, they’re coming!” The injured woman was hysterical, walking and crying, but she handed the uninjured man a handkerchief from her pocket, which he pressed against some wound. I didn’t look at the head on the injured. The sound and the look of his body was enough, and I felt it would be disrespectful to go any closer than I had to, to look any closer than I must. It was obviously a major head injury, and there was nothing I could to help with that. So I called my brother, but he didn’t pick up. It went to voice-mail and I hung up, apologized to the woman.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m calling the other one.” She couldn’t have known what I meant by that. I meant my other brother. We were actually on a road between two of my brothers’ houses, and as I dialed the number for the second I realized we were actually closer to him. Thankfully, he works nights but had the day off, so he was awake, and he was able to tell me exactly where we were. The signal was bad and I wasn’t sure at first that he had heard me, but I was able to hear him through the audio cutting out and told her where we were, which she relayed to the person on the phone. I hung up, she hung up, and she said the ambulance was on its way. 

We waited. I stood there, feeling useless, hearing those horrible breathing sounds, and the man kept asking where they were, kneeling over his friend, holding that cloth wherever he was holding it. The woman who had spoken on the phone was stone calm, even more calm than I was, and she kept telling him, “They’re coming.” I looked at her and told her I was sorry, not telling what I was sorry for, though what I meant was that I was sorry I couldn’t do more. She said:

“No. Thank you for stopping,” and I stood there, mute and useless. After about five or ten minutes, I saw lights over the hill, then a police car came and parked ahead of us. A man with gloves got out and came to squat by the inert body of the unconscious man. He asked the name of the wounded, one of them told the name, and he repeated it to the unconscious wounded man, said, “Stay with us, buddy!” Then he looked at the friend who was kneeling over him and said, “Sir, can I please ask you to step away with the females.” The two women had grouped together by the cruiser and he gestured at them. I was far away, about twenty feet, knowing I was useless and doing all I could to not be a cheap onlooker, waiting out of the way. The friend didn’t move and the policeman kept saying, “Please join the females, sir! I’m going to have to ask you to join the females!” The friend didn’t respond and I didn’t blame him. He stayed with his buddy.

After a while, about three ambulances showed up with maybe a dozen police cars all lined up in a row, lights flashing, and while the EMTs loaded the injured man into the ambulance the cops split up the others and talked to them while the rest of the policemen and emergency responders gathered in a group and stood around, talking and looking important. I stayed far away in the grass, almost into the field, and looked at my car which was still running. It was blocked in on both sides by long lines of cruisers and ambulances. After the others were in ambulances or with policemen, the original cop came and asked if I had seen the wreck. I said no, I had come along after. He said okay then, I could leave. So I did, creeping along between the flashing lights and uniformed men crowding the street. I got about half a mile away before I had to pull over to let the ambulance past. Last I heard the man was still in the hospital in a coma.

Whenever I used to think about incidents like these, about accidents or medical emergencies, I always assumed they’d be intense and dramatic, that I’d be able to jump in and do something, help out in some way. I imagined my training in CPR coming in handy (even if it was years ago that I learned and CPR has changed since then) or some other bold action being needed, but it was nothing like that. There was nothing I could do. Not even that policeman could do anything but crouch there and ask the others to give distance. Hell, I was barely even able to help with where we were at. If my brother hadn’t been awake, I would have just been a stupid onlooker. I had my GPS in the car, but to be honest I’m not even sure I would have thought of that. It’s strange how much events, really important, dramatic events, don’t match at all our conceptions of them. As much as fiction works to analyze the core of human experience, of the nature of people, it completely fails to encompass the actual nature of dramatic events. Drama in life and fiction are entirely separate. This is obvious, I know, but until put into the situation it never viscerally registered with me. Perhaps there are opportunities where you get to leap in and take action, where it really does feel like the books or movies, where you get to be like a hero and feel like one. It seems plausible, or at least possible. But in my experience it doesn’t happen that way. In real life, dramatic events are just tragic and regretful. Even the adrenaline is the sinking kind. But perhaps I’m just not a hero. I wonder about the EMTs and firemen, the ER nurses and doctors, the people who do make a material difference. Do they ever feel like heroes, or is it always this stark reality, this ultimate helplessness, the gurgling blood in the dark? Maybe heroes only exist in fiction, and real life is only a series of tragedies with better or worse results. I guess that seems the most realistic to me. What do you think?

I Was A Prepubescent Hack

[ Note: From 2008 to 2013, I kept a writing blog, which I then took down. Now that I am starting a new blog in 2018, I will be adding some older posts backdated to their original publication. Many of these were obviously written by a young, naive, perhaps foolish person, with prose ranging from overblown to just plain shitty, but they illustrate my journey as a writer and a person, so I think it is worth the embarrassment. ]

One of the earliest stories I remember writing was about a team of scientists who discover an enormous underground bunker of some sort and drop down into it to look around. For some reason, there is a goblin creature in there, and it kills them off one by one in horrible gruesome attacks. The last scientist escapes (without killing the creature) and shoots himself in the head a few days later. I think that was fifth grade. Maybe fourth.

The first short story I ever submitted for publication was to Boy’s Life. It was called Johnny and The Clown and was equally ripped off from Stephen King’s It (the movie: I hadn’t read the book yet), Poltergeist, and probably some X-Files and Twilight Zone episodes. A little boy gets a clown doll for his birthday. It comes alive and dances on top of him in his bed and smiles with rotten teeth and tells him it will eat him during the next thunder-storm.

A putrid breath wheezed out of the clown as he said in a rough voice, ‘I’m gonna eat ya Johnny!  I’m gonna wait until there’s a storm and it’s nice and dark, then I’m gonna eat ya slowly from your feet up, so you can watch yourself get chewed up and swallowed by yours truly!’

When I finished that story, I showed it to my mother and she loved it. She told me to show it to my Uncle Carl, so I ran down the street with the three-page story (printed in red because we were out of black ink) and showed it to him. He read it at once, with us both standing in his living room, me watching as he turned the pages, and he told me it was very good. I looked at it and thought, “My god, it IS good.” So I submitted it to Boy’s Life, which to my knowledge has never published a story about evil carnivorous dolls. I still have the cover letter.

My father has been active in our Boy Scout troop since I was a young child. So ever since I can remember, I’ve been reading the captivating stories in your magazine.  It was these short, yet entertaining stories that first inspired me to write. I decided that if I could have that much fun in these other people’s worlds, why couldn’t I have fun creating my own? [This paragraph is a lie. While I read the stories in Boy’s Life, it had no direct role in my beginning to write.]

So I have been writing ever since.  I have written many different types of stories, and this one happens to be a horror.  Not a violent or graphic horror either, mind you, but one any child could enjoy.  I loved being scared by R.L. Stine as a child, so now I’d like to return the favor.  Taking a clown doll and a small boy, I spun up a story I think you’ll find entertaining, to the point, and easy to understand.  Thank you very much for taking the time to read my story and enter my world.  Just look out for the clowns…

 I still have the form rejection. When I got it, I was so disheartened I decided to become a hack. I looked in the latest issue of the magazine, and there was an article about some island culture in which boys rode in long canoes and speared sharks as a rite of passage. I looked up those people online and researched how the hunt worked and wrote a short story specifically for Boy’s Life. It featured a sensitive young boy who was afraid to spear a shark but had to in order to be considered a man. It, too, was rejected, and I deleted it in shame. So far as I can remember, that was the only short story of mine that I’ve ever intentionally deleted.

I don’t know what the point of this post is. I wish it could be a recollection of my struggling days from the vantage point of an established author, a laugh and a shrug over the silliness of youth. But the truth is I’m still not published. I have an extensive rejection collection and I still love what I write. Of course, when it’s about a year old, then I can see how terrible it is, and even in an immediate second draft I can be quite ruthless when editing my own work, but I take an immense pleasure in my writing that is perhaps not justified. Still, maybe that love is necessary to continue writing, to work and improve in the vacuum of unpublished struggle, to move past the goblins and clowns and express the reality of people as I see them. It has been many, many years since I stood in that room and watched my uncle reading, and since then I have grown in more ways than one. But as an eager, unpublished author, am I really any different?

The Meth-Head Who Bled On My Couch (And Also Taught Me Something)

[ Note: From 2008 to 2013, I kept a writing blog, which I then took down. Now that I am starting a new blog in 2018, I will be adding some older posts backdated to their original publication. Many of these were obviously written by a young, naive, perhaps foolish person, with prose ranging from overblown to just plain shitty, but they illustrate my journey as a writer and a person, so I think it is worth the embarrassment. ]


The persistent yapping of my mother’s dachshund continued even as it faded from my consciousness.  A shadow enveloped the periphery of my perception and I was only aware of the slender window, no larger than a hardback book, that floated in the door before me.  Through this I saw the hunched form of a shirtless, tattooed, hairless man in his late twenties, bent with his hands on his elbows, rocking in distress.  My first impulse was to lock the door and run for the shotgun, because here was what could only be a meth-head in some strange state, and he was more than large enough to hurt me with his hands.  Before I could reach the lock, he looked up at me and screamed, “Help!  I’ve been burned!”

Particular scenes from A Clockwork Orange jumped immediately to mind, but nonetheless I opened the door, electric caution in my stomach.  Even as I saw the pink puckered wounds that covered his left half from waist to neck, there was a moment of disbelief, and I marveled at how much like movie makeup it looked, the strings of skin stretched like cobwebs over the divots of burned out flesh.  His face was untouched, but a full half of his torso, from chest to back, was melted in sloughs and blisters.  The agony in his face was unimaginable, and I quickly ushered him in.

“I’ll get an ambulance,” I said, and ran into the kitchen, picked up the phone.  He followed me in, unable to stop moving, pacing erratically until he fell on his knees.  Shudders and screams escaped him in starts, and he fell to the floor and began writhing—literally writhing: I gained new understanding of the word—while I dialed nine-one-one.  Growing up, I had that number driven into me, and though I had never used it, I always thought I would feel a special thrill, a spike of forbidden pleasure, when I did.  There was none of that.  I barely registered doing it.  As I spoke with the operator—I was transferred once, interrogated, and had to give all my information twice—the man kept screaming for me to do something to stop the pain.  He stood in a moment of lucidity and begged me to ask if he could get in the tub.  I asked, and the operator said yes.  He ran to the bathroom, and as soon as the fire department would let me hang up, I went to help him.


The door was shut, and I could hear him screaming as he splashed water on himself.  I knocked and asked if I could do anything for him, and he asked in a barely discernible voice: “Cup of water, no ice?”  I ran to get the cup of water, musing as it filled that such a simple, domestic expression, that request for “no ice,” could find its way into a situation such as this.  When I returned with the water, he opened the door in his underwear and took it, closed the door again.  I told him I’d be right there if he needed anything, but I had to run to the door to check that the ambulance didn’t miss our drive.  Outside, there was no sign of anyone.

When I returned, he screamed for a towel.  There was one left in the laundry room.  I took it to the bathroom, knocked, and opened the door a crack to offer it to him.  I didn’t really think it was a time for modesty, but I didn’t want the man to be embarrassed by my seeing him naked: a ridiculous compunction in retrospect, but another of those daily social observances that leak in as absurdity in times of emergency.  As I glanced in, I saw his blistered form shaking as he struggled out of the tub to accept the towel, and I felt like an absolute bastard for making him do it.  I stepped in and handed it to him, he fell back into the tub, and I stepped out.

At this point I was worried that the police hadn’t gotten the right address, and I ran out to check the road a couple more times.  No sound of sirens or anything.  I went back in and he shouted for another towel.  There were none in the laundry room, but I remembered the others in the bathroom closet.  I told him that, opened the door, and went in.  I can’t remember if the water was still running, but the curtain was back and he was standing in the tub, shaking against the tile, crying and hugging the limp wet rag.  The closet was immediately to the right of the entrance, and I opened it and took one of the towels and handed it to him.  The clearest image I have of the encounter is in that moment: his hand outstretched, face red, a stranger standing naked and shuddering with pain as I press the dry white cloth into his hand, he a man I would at any time fear, helpless and crying before me.

As he staggered out of the bathroom, clutching one towel to his chest and the other over his groin, I ran ahead and cleared off a couch, told him to lie down.  Once he was down, I said, “I’ll be right back.  I’ll get you another cup of water.”

He said, “Yes!  Please!” as I went into the kitchen and filled another glass for him, brought it back.  He was horizontal but couldn’t stay that way, kept wiggling and sitting up, breathing fast and letting out short, panicked screams.  I handed him the cup and said, “Try to take deep breaths, drink slowly.”  The words came out with calm, but I felt completely useless: I’ve been trained in basic first aid, but he was so bad I hadn’t a clue what to do.  The only thing I could think was to try to calm and reassure him.

“You’ll be okay,” I said.  “You’ll be alright.  They’ll be here soon.  They would have warned me if anything bad would happen, so you’ll be fine.”  The logic wasn’t exactly spotless, and I do wonder whether it just annoyed him, but all I could do was make soothing noises.  The pain seemed to hit him in waves, and he would stand and pace around, screaming and stomping.  In the midst of this he suddenly froze, looked me in the eyes, and said, “I’m sorry.”  I could only look at him and say, “You’re fine, man.”  Then he was back into a frenzy, and he dropped on the couch and looked up and said, “A cop—a cop’s here.”  I turned to the window: the sheriff was stopped at the entrance to our drive, looking around.  I ran out and waved him in.


After the burned man left in the ambulance (he had asked them to strap him down as they loaded him in, which I thought was odd) one of the deputies asked me where his clothes were.  I told him.  His reply seemed strange: “I’m gonna go smell them!”  With that, he ran inside to do so.

It took me a moment to figure it out.  The deputy wasn’t a pervert—he was smelling for chemicals.  He bagged the clothes and took them outside, where a ring of police and volunteer firemen stood with their hands on their hips, discussing the event.  I stood awkwardly, half in the circle, a twenty-one-year-old bookworm who looked fifteen, surrounded by burly self important men who wore sunglasses and chewed gum.

“Where did he come from?” one of them asked.
“I don’t know,” I said.  “He just showed up beating on my door.”
“What do they smell like?” one of the firemen asked the deputy.
“No ammonia,” he said.  “Clorox, maybe?”
One of them walked to the crossroads and pointed down a road.  “I think I see his truck.”

It turned out my first impression was correct: he was a meth-head.  He had rigged up a roadside lab about a mile down, just a few feet from the street, set in a dry ditch.  In the middle of mixing a batch, something went wrong, and it exploded, burning his shirt off in addition to some flesh.


Learning this, I was reminded of an anti-drug plan of which I had heard: to release directions for making meth on the internet, only with an added step that makes everything explode and kill the maker.  It had seemed clever before, but it cannot now.

My perspective has shifted.  I have never been a squeamish person, and I was always skeptical of claims from people who had witnessed violence that it had affected them in any deep and lasting way.  I grew up reading horror novels and watching horror films, and I’ve seen many gruesome photos and videos that were actually real.  The concept of real world violence disturbed me, but I didn’t think much of the impact of seeing injured people.  I’m of a fairly scientific mind, and I always expected to remain detached and rational.

It turns out that I did while the event was going on.  This occurred just before English class, and I went and attended with no issues.  It seemed vaguely strange to me, but that was all.  I watched, talked, laughed as normal.  Then class was over, and I went to the library.

Let me be clear that what I witnessed was not that gruesome.  It was disturbing, especially in the screams incited in the man, but there are innumerable, exponentially more horrible sights and sounds all around the world every day.  I don’t claim any scars or post-traumatic stress.

Still, it was distracting.  I found myself stopping mid-sentence as I read and analyzing everything I’d done, everything I’d seen.  I replayed the scene at the door, examined my impulse to throw the lock, remembered vividly the movie-set strangeness of his wounds.  

Worse later, as I tried to sleep.  My brain would not shut down: it kept returning to those scenes.  More than anything, that look of anguish as I handed him the towel.  Had I done the right thing?  What if he had hurt me?  Gone insane?  Fled the police?  Died?

The next morning, it was back.  I had a strange feeling of disappointment, a sinking thought of, “Oh.  It still happened.”  All of this for a burned stranger!  I can’t imagine the effect of witnessing a death, let alone of someone I knew.


That, in essence, is the matter of my shift.  It is not that I have been permanently shocked.  It has only been a few days, and I slept just fine last night.*  I have not had one dream or nightmare.  (Which says a lot, because I have dreams about math from doing calculus.)  It is only that I have somehow extended my sympathy, taken my academic awareness of the pity of violence and given it emotional impetus, even for people I don’t know and am inclined to despise.

If a burn is that bad, what of a missile driving debris through your body?  Or even of burns: what of the suppurating phosphorous wounds still open in a Palestinian years after he was hit by Israeli munitions?  Sticking to meth addicts: one of the responses to my story was from a man who said, “If a toasted meth-head showed up at my door, I’d pour salt on him to increase the pain, then lock the door and call 911.”  If that were truly his response to seeing another human being in absolute agony, pleading for his help, I’d be ashamed to say I knew him. 

Helping that burned man did not dramatically alter my core philosophy of life, but it did bring into clarity the reality of human suffering.  Whether one be a war criminal, meth addict, murderer, or rapist, every person when hurt or tortured cries forth with the sound of a child, and in that cry is the voice of our entire species, a representation of our pain, brutality, and love.  This may be a product of my naiveté, and the universality of the sensation of suffering only to be taken as a necessary ingredient in the wars and prosecutions of our existence, but I know that I will never be able to take the harm of another impersonally, to write it off as due justice or the price of anything worth having, without confronting the image of a naked man sobbing as I hand him a towel.

* This was originally written in September of 2010.