Hey 2012! You Can Kick Rocks!

2013-Wallpaper-HD-10Kick Rocks! So long! Don’t let the door hit ya! Yep, this was my sentiment going into the New Year. Considering how the last couple months have been here on the ranch, I was more than happy to say Happy Trails to the last 366 days (you did remember last year was a Leap Year, right?) We do that: tend to focus on the last thing, on the most recent image or feeling or tone. Our proximity to current events makes us forget the bigger picture.

I started this year poking fingers at myself (and rocking Hello Kitty earphones) and ended it pointing fingers at someone else (and having a grand old time doing it). Along the way, though, this blog moved from a self-help soliloquy on how to make it in this world and write about it to a comedy-laced exploration of villainy and all its repercussions. In that process, I’ve learned that I’m a lot of things: I have a Superman-complex, I hate limits, and still I have an unresolved disdain for a certain stuffed animatronic bear.

I’m working on that.

So let’s look back over the year. Last December, I laid out a list of goals I wanted to achieve over the course of 2012, both as an author and as a publisher:

Author Goals

  • Write a blog post every other day
  • Complete 2 book reviews a month
  • Participate in 1 Blog Tour in 2012
  • Complete 1 script through ScriptFrenzy
  • Complete 1 novel by participating in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

Publishing Goals

  • Sell 10,000 copies of The Road to Hell (90% digital 10% hard copy)
  • Obtain 10 reviews
  • Obtain 5 author quotes
  • Sign 2 additional authors
  • Publish 2 books (1 novel, 1 anthology) through Sanford House Press

Looking at these, I’m trying to figure what in the world I was smoking. I also had a job to keep, a family to lead, pounds to lose, a dog to walk. These were lofty, aggressive goals to be sure and some of them I hit, some I glanced off, and some I just whiffed entirely. Let’s look at the rundown:

  • Write a blog post every other day. Well (in my Ronald Reagan voice) I came pretty close—140 posts in 2012. That comes out to about a post every 2 ½ days. I can live with that.
  • 2 book reviews per month. The Boy saw me reading a book the other day and actually said, “You can read?” Let’s just say I missed this one. By a mile.
  • Participate in 1 blog tour in 2012. Hey! Wouldja look at that! I was a part of 3 blog tours in 2012. Maybe that will offset the lack of reviews. Maybe…
  • Complete 1 Script through ScriptFrenzy. Huh? See what had happened was…do I get bonus points for them closing down ScriptFrenzy entirely? Miss.
  • Complete 1 novel through NaNoWriMo. I’m gonna take a “Kinda” on this one. I’ve been working on my new novel, Come Hell or High Water, all year and officially crossed the 50,000 word mark last week. But a bunch of stuff got in the way and the whole thing got delayed.

So looking at my personal writing goals, I’d have to give myself a solid C, maybe a C-. Nothing spectacular but I’m just ahead of the curve. I gotta do better though.

On the publishing front, it’s about the same, maybe a bit better. I think I’d give myself a B-:

  • Sell 10,000 copies of The Road to Hell. Yeah, that shit didn’t happen. I knew this was ambitious. I didn’t know how utterly damn difficult it would be. It’s actually laughable. At this rate, we’ll have another president and be 2 years into their term by the time I hit this target. Gotta change strategies.
  • Obtain 10 reviews. Nailed it!
  • Obtain 5 author quotes. I had a good run this year on publication thing and getting author interest in my work was pretty easy…and prolific. 100% on this one too.
  • Sign 2 additional authors. I had an opportunity to work with a couple authors and help develop their work. No one’s there yet and I ended up focusing on my own stuff instead.
  • Publish 2 books (a novel & an anthology). So it didn’t happen in 2012. It will in 2013. The goal was to have Come Hell or High Water done by now. Things happened. I can say it will be done in early 2013 well…come Hell or high water. And the anthology? This was an idea that hit me in the middle of the year: once I hit 100 villains, I’ll pull it together into Crooked Letterz’ Big Book of Villainy Volume 1. I’d love to hear what you think about this one.

All in all, 2012 was more than okay for me on a literary front. I did alright, I guess. Without specifics (I’m still working on those), I’ll simply resolve to do better. Be stronger. Faster. Become world’s first bionic…author? Yeah, something like that.

Actually I did better than alright. Sure, my own metrics leave a lot to be desired but I found something I didn’t plan on when I wrote those. I found my calling. My voice. My brand. Something that’s a part of me now. That puts me in a different place than I was a year ago. I think I’m better off as a result.

The latter part of the year made me re-evaluate what I thought was important. Made me refocus my attention on what—and who—is closest to me. I still have goals and they’re still relatively the same. I haven’t stopped being that achievement-oriented person I’ve always been. But life doesn’t really give a shit about your hard metrics, your targets and goals. Life lives. It breathes. It throws monkey-wrenches in your plans and confounds your expectations and fucks up what you meant to do. Life is sick kids and ill spouses and aging dogs. It’s sleepless nights and amazing movies and unbridled laughter and inconsolable sadness.

It’s what is important.

It makes for fantastic storytelling. And, no matter what, it’ll make for a fantastic 2013.

Oh yeah, remember those 60 pounds? Well, 10 of them are gone. It ain’t perfect but it’s a start. I’ll take it.

Get It Out!

I’m a little bit of an Alien fan. Just a little, right? So it was with tremendous excitement that I sat my eager tail at the local Regal Cinema to check Ridley Scott’s latest masterpiece. I saw a lot of things in that movie—some of them I understood, some of them I have no freaking clue what the hell they were smoking—but the movie is essentially about getting things started.

It’s about the stuff Michael Fassbender holds on his finger and says ominously, “Big things have small beginnings.” It’s about black goo.

It’s about the catalyst. The thing that makes it all happen.

You might not know this but I write a little bit. And that little bit has fallen to a teeny tiny bit of late. More like a trickle of words. It felt like the rushing river of literary productivity that runs in my head had dried up, its surge stopped by psychological dams. I was stuck. I’ve said it before, I don’t believe in writer’s block—at least not with me—and godammit look at what happened. I got blocked. Mentally constipated. Nothing would move.

When I was a freshman in college, I ran into a little intestinal trouble. I developed an ulcer in my duodenum (a word The Boy brought home from Health class)—the place where your intestines come together. It hurt when I ate so I did the most logical thing my 17-year-old mind could conceive: I stopped eating. When I came home for Christmas break, I’d lost about 15-20 pounds. I’m not a big guy as it is, standing at an imposing 5 feet, 6 inches, and such a dramatic weight loss made me look like I had AIDS. Or was a crack addict.

Anyway, I go to see the doctor for tests to see what’s happening, right? Blood tests, CAT scans, the “let-me-feel-on-your-guts-til-it-hurts-and-you-wanna-slap-me” test. I also got some x-rays—actually enough x-rays that I would glow in the dark. And to make my insides look even more sexy for the camera, I had to drink radioactive barium. Have you ever had this stuff? It’s like liquid chalk.

So I drink the stuff, get my x-rays, go home while doctors try to figure out what happening inside. I must point out here that no one had the presence of mind to say, “Hey Chris, after you take this stuff, make sure you drink plenty of fluids.” That would have been helpful. See, a couple days later, I wake up and I REALLY gotta drop some kids off at the pool. I go to sit down and, like Yukon Cornelius in the Rudolph Christmas special—nothing. Got the leg shake and the one tear and no dice. Nothing’s moving. It had been a couple days since I went and I’m a little concerned. Talk to my mom about it and she recommends castor oil.

Castor oil? It’s 1990—didn’t castor oil go out of style with the Little Rascals? But I get it—if it works, it works. I take the stuff (almost vomit along the way) and my stomach starts bubbling and churning and cramping…nothing. NOTHING. And it hurts. Bad.


Have you ever had to go to the emergency room because you can’t shit? I have. And it is as spectacular as you imagine it to be.

We (and I say we because I’m a college student at the emergency room with my mom because I’m constipated) tell the nurses what the deal is and they respond with, “Oh, an enema is exactly what he needs!” Yeah, not so much. So if you’ve been keeping track, I had a couple days worth of food, radioactive barium, castor oil, and now some undefined number of ounces of water (I have no idea how much water goes into those things; I was a bit more focused on my increasingly dwindling ego!) Things are not feeling so hot. AND STILL NOTHING IS HAPPENING!

I get taken in the back and the nurse who drew the short straw comes in with rubber gloves and a bottle of topical Novocain. “What are you gonna do with that?” I say. She says, “Well, it has to come out.”

It came out. Bit by embarrassing bit. And once it got going, everything else just flowed. Or exploded. Everywhere. EVERYWHERE. Anyway, I brought that nurse a Christmas gift afterward.

Whether it’s the black goo, a swift kick in the ass, or a Novocain-covered rubber finger in it, you gotta get that shit out. Find the thing that makes it happen for you and tap into it, dig into it, whether it hurts or is embarrassing or disgusting. It’s in there; it has to come out. It has to come out. Look, you just got a front row seat to THE most embarrassing thing in my life—but if it gets you started, it’s worth it. And truth is, it got me started. And today, that’s what it’s all about.

I’m back on my shit (pun intended): the Festival continues tomorrow with the one guy who just couldn’t let things go: GOLLUM!

How We Broke Disneyworld Part I

Hey, remember when I said we were gonna see if Peter Pan could really fly? Well…four broken bones, a hyper-extended knee, a fused spine and a fractured pelvis later, it turns out he can’t. He also can’t walk anymore. Ever. Did you know the characters in Disneyworld aren’t actually the REAL characters? They’re people DRESSED like the characters. That’s not what they advertise. I bought magic, dammit, but it’s all strings and pulleys and hot air balloons and secret doors. Yeah, I was surprised too! Well, we found out Disney doesn’t actually appreciate when you try to kill one of their characters. Even the lame ones.


So after the Peter Pan debacle, we ran. Or tried to. Disneyworld does have its own security force called the Mickeys—they’re real people with Mickey ears for hats but they are bound by the company to only talk like Mickey, Donald or Goofy. So the four of us are being chased by 6 big, burly guys and we’re hearing Goofy yell, “Gawrsh, you gotta stop right there!” and Mickey shout, “Hey, you little bastards, we’re gonna get you!” We never did understand what the Donald Duck guys were saying.

We break out of Cinderella’s castle but the whole episode happened during the Wishes firework show (yes, we damn near killed Peter Pan in front of thousands of people. Go big or go home, right?). Our exit is blocked! Break left into Tomorrowland. We have two options: Stitch’s Great Escape or Space Mountain. Escape sounds like the plan so we jump on the ride. Booooo! Stitch just laughs and spits on you for the whole ride. But here’s the thing: the Mickeys have to follow the rules of the park while they’re in the park. If we run on a ride, they do too. And they have to stay on it, strapped in and everything. They even get carded for Fastpasses! We don’t get anywhere but, Stitch being Stitch, he does help us out: he spits enough water on the ground that our pursuers slip, fall and collapse in a heap.

On to Space Mountain.

There is a 45-minute wait for the ride and we have 6 Mickeys on our tails. Screw the standby line. We ambush a bunch of teenagers with Bieber hair, snatch their Fastpasses and tear up the line. I’m not proud of what we did but, hey, they had Bieber hair—they deserved it on GP. The Mickeys come up right behind us but they get broken up riding as Single Riders. I should point out here that the title of the Space Mountain ride is a misnomer: it takes you neither to space nor the mountains. We’re right back where we started.


We need a diversion.

The Honey Badger provides.

In Tomorrowland, there is occasionally a walking, talking trashcan named Push. Wrong day for Push. Because that’s what he got: pushed into the yelling, screaming Mickeys. They’re down for the count. We wade into the rush of attendees and strollers, Hoverounds and crying kids, bolt up Main Street and make a break for the Main Gate. It’s almost too easy.

But leave it to Disney to make things harder than they actually have to be. Rather than escape the park into, I don’t know, the PARKING LOT, we are funneled into the ninth circle of Hell—better known as the Transportation Center. This lovely invention is a conundrum of poor signage and bad lighting and arrows that lead no-fucking-where, all trying to direct you to three actual exits: the Tram to the parking lot; the Ferry to God-knows-where, and the monorail.

Everybody and their mama is on the Ferry boat. And they are slow! Not “old-lady-writing-a-check-in-the-grocery-store-line-how-much-are-those-apples-do-you-have-a-pen?” slow. Not even “new-parents-who-can’t-figure-out-how-to-close-the-fucking-stroller-they’ve-had-for-the-last-10-months-so-it-can-fit-through-the-X-Ray-machine-at-TSA-and-maybe-allow-the-1500-people-behind-them-to-make-their-flight” slow. This is something different. Something worse. These people are “I-have-never-been-anywhere-but-my-80-person-town-where-teeth-are-optional-and-what-is-a-dental-plan?-Janey-come-on-Tanner-get-down-what-does-that-sign-say-where-is-the-car?” slow. Fuck the ferry.

We turn to the Monorail. The Boy starts having anxiety attacks over the monorail because he SAW IT SIT ON THE FUCKING TRACKS AND THE RIDE WAS BUMPY ONCE. Once. This was actually a real conversation. Who the hell is scared of the Monorail at Disneyworld? Oh, I know who! My kid. Monorail’s out.

Tram it is. We break for the tram, wade through the crowd, trying to find the one for the Heroes lot (or was it Villains? Shit where is the car?) I hear the operator in the back begin his speech, “This is the tram to—agghhh!” Wife took him out. All I see is his orange and white vest floating in the Florida breeze. Guess the driver is mine. I rush his little cabin, tell him in my best Amityville Horror voice, “Get out!” He does. The tram is ours.

We speed off into the night, no idea where the car is, on a parking tram loaded with 80 tired, angry, confused Disney patrons of all ages, canes and strollers and walkers dribbling off the sides. And as we pull away, I hear over the loudspeakers, still in the Mickey voice:

“…they’ve got a tram into the Villains lot. This is a Code 626.”

Code 626. Fugitives.

But wait! There’s more!

Consistency Smishtency?

I gotta grow up.

This is not an idea I’m comfortable with. Not at all. In my quest to figure out how to increase my reach, my brand as an author and my sales, I enlisted the extremely affordable help of a marketing major. Seemed like a good idea at the time: she’s young, smart, energetic. And cheap. What more could I ask for?

Until she gave me my first prognosis: you, sir, are inconsistent.

Inconsistent? What? That ain’t…well…ok…fine. She was right.

My Little Helper told me that my blog, my Facebook fanpage, my communications all needed to match the tone and perspective of the things I write professionally. She called this building my brand. Surprisingly, the ladies from the Indie Book Collective said the same thing in their Dollars and Sense book. Now this presents a problem for me: what I write (right now) is a little heavy, a little dark, a little wicked but the person I am is snarky and funny and mean. It doesn’t match. It isn’t consistent.

Back when I was the neighborly insurance adjuster, a colleague of mine asked me to accompany him on a claim. The policyholder was a hoarder—the house was bursting with trash, broken items, and refuse (back then, we called them “garbage houses”)—and they’d suffered a fire. My co-worker was having a tough time working with the client to determine a replacement value for things that had no value.

When I arrived we were paraded through a narrow pathway of shoulder-high newspapers and magazines and while my co-worker met with the client, I took a little tour of charred remains of the trash outside. One of the things that caught me was the remains of a gas grill. The platform on the bottom and the post that held the firebox were intact but the firebox itself was gone. Completely gone.

I asked the policyholder (whom we’ll call PH here) about it: “Hey, umm, what happened to the grill?”

PH: It was damaged in the fire.

Me (sharing a look with my co-worker): Seriously? Are you saying the grill was damaged by fire?

PH: Yep.

So I need you to understand the circumstances. This entire conversation took place in Minnesota. In January. My Minnesotan friends will attest that it’s tough enough to get a fire started in January in Minnesota, much less get one burning hot enough to do any real damage to anything. So I said:

“Are you suggesting that a fire damaged the thing designed to hold fire? That’s really your story? Come on, man.”

She maintained her story but it was inconsistent.

So I’m all for saying what I think. I don’t know what to think so this time I’m asking a question: how? I’m a storyteller first—I don’t know how to make it consistent across everything I create. I don’t know how to speak with solely one voice. And I don’t know if I should. And would you actually want me to?

That’s the question for today: you know me, you know what I have to say, some of you have even read my book. Do they all have to look and feel relatively the same? I think My Little Helper is right; I’d love to know what you think.

Use Your Outside Voice

NEWSFLASH: Whitney Houston died last week.

OK so that’s not the news flash. That’s actually old news. The real news is the “voice” died. It’s gone. Seems like the coverage was more concerned about the death of her musical legacy than it was about Whitney as an individual. We’ve seen this plenty of times before—the death of the voice of an entire generation. It happened with Kurt Cobain and Tupac, Marvin Gaye and Huey Newton, John Lennon and John Kennedy. Now Whitney.

And we do this often; the world does this. We find someone who speaks our language and we consume them, eating every morsel of them alive until death is the only escape and we are left in the silent wake of their absence. In the void of someone’s passing. We needed that voice. It filled something within us. Now we miss it.

I know it sounds morbid so let me tell you a story. When I was in college, I was the president of the students of color organization on campus. I also worked in the multicultural affairs office for Work-Study. We had this newsletter project to do for the office and my role was two-fold: layout the newsletter (I’d taught myself PageMaker and got pretty good at it) and to write the closing article as the organization’s president.

I told you before that I was a little bit of a rabble rouser when I was younger. I took the opportunity to speak my mind to the administration and the entire student body with a little article called Multiculturalism Is Bullshit. Seriously. That was the title. In the back of the Multicultural Affairs newsletter. It went over fantastically. I was on academic probation until I graduated.

But it did make an impact. While ill-advised, it did something. It was read; it resonated with people. My article warned of going so far in ignoring the differences between us that we diminish the value of those differences, that we negate the variety of perspective and culture and experience in the name of political correctness. I got some discussion going, became a columnist for the college newspaper, and received a sternly worded letter from the Dean of Students.

But I found a voice.

We’re all speaking these days: everybody’s Facebooking and Twittering and Pinterested. Social media has given us a voice to speak to tens, hundreds, thousands of people. It builds friendships, businesses, revolutions. Voices, average, ordinary voices, are building nations and toppling dictators. They build the apps that power our smartphones, redefine our news, put presidents into office. Voices have power.

I’ve been thinking about writing about voice for sometime now, so much so it was intended to be the theme for this month. Voice. What you say and how you say it. Whether you are a writer or a public speaker or an activist or a parent, your voice has power and magnitude and impact. Impact is a force—it is tangible and palpable. It is something we can feel. That is what we lost when Whitney left. A voice.

You’re “listening” to my voice. You can subscribe to this blog for my life in writing, follow my random thoughts on Twitter, or purchase my novel (yes, yes, shameless plug). Whether it’s written, status updates, or phone calls, you have your own voice. Use it.

Mother Knows Best…Sometimes

At long last my mom finally made it out to sunny Seattle, after being too sick to travel over the Christmas holiday. It was this fantastic piece of news that inspired such classics as Bah Humbug! More Like Blah Whatever and How the Grinch SAVED Christmas. But we’re past all that and she gets to come out and everyone in my house sets their phasers to stun: we’re all too nervous to function normally.

For me, it’s the first time my mother has seen me as a parent. I told you before we’re a pre-packaged family and, though it’s been an 8-year endeavor, not everyone moves as fast or is as accepting as we are. I get that part. But every child still has to pass muster on those things that matter. I’m no different.

My wife becomes a Tasmanian Devil, spinning through the house cleaning and cooking—with the same warm temperament. Her nerves are, justifiably, high and me and the kids become Tito, Marlon and Jermaine to her Michael Jackson: standing in the way while she’s running around the house like this is a Pepsi commercial and her hair is on fire.

Oh but the kids are the best! Let me tell you about these individuals (you know it can’t be good: I’ve called them individuals). These clowns decide the best way to deal with their nerves is to show their entire asses. Not one booty cheek. Not the top of the crack. Whole ass. The entire time my mom is in town, DMFRHs decide a test is the best time to hold a conversation and then lie about it, convince their teachers I really want a call home, and The Boy, who earned the first DMFRH award, gets in trouble for the EXACT SAME SHIT!

That’s not the bad part. The bad part is they forced my hand.

Think about it: my mom is here looking at me as a parent and the kids offer a real test. I gotta be firm, right? I gotta be the heavy-handed disciplinarian and, whether my mom is present or not, I have to address the behavior, right? And it comes at a time when I’m staring down the mouth of a Disneyworld trip and the Day Job Dragon has been gracious enough to bequeath lil ol me a bonus.

You see where I’m going with this, don’t you?

They forced my hand. I have to respond.



I raise the stakes. Try to turn the tables and force them to crumble. I make a list of all the things I’d rather do other than Disneyworld and ask them to convince me not to change my mind. Sell me on it. They don’t. These MFs call my bluff and respond poorly. POOR-LY. My wife is becoming increasingly upset because she’s watching her vacation flitter away on the ignorance of children. We look ridiculous to my mom because we can’t control our kids. And she, in her own way, is pressing for the tougher response.

While my mother was here, we went to the Pacific Science Center—Seattle’s science museum. There is an exhibit called Body Works. It has stuff about anatomy and reaction times and how the human body is built. It’s pretty cool. One of the stations in the exhibit is about how human beings (and most other living things) are built bilaterally—if you sliced us in half from head to toe, we’d look pretty much the same on both sides, right? Pretty much but not exactly. There are these little differences that you never see, subtle imperfections in the symmetry. This station had you line up your face and showed you some pictures: the way others see you, the way you see yourself, and the way you’d look if both of your halves were exactly the same. The way you think you look and the way others see you—and the difference between those images—was striking.

The question here rattling in my head, and where I’m trying to go with this, is who are you going to be? Who am I going to be? The man I see in the mirror or the one I think I’m supposed to be in that situation? For that audience? My mother never pushed me to do or be anything other than who I was. Those expectations, and the stress that comes along with them, are mine. They are the figments of my imagination combined with what I’ve gleaned from my experience. But I made them.

The goal has to be to make those images the same. The person we see in the mirror should be the same one others see when they look at us. They should be the same. I see myself as a man trying to make life better for a group of people who’d been dealt a pretty shitty hand. I see me as a man who believes anything is possible, who believes the journey is more important than the destination, who believes that we should fight to make our dreams come true.
So that is the man I decided to be.

Disney is still on, mainly because I think my wife will kill us in our sleep if we don’t go. I haven’t figured out what to do about the rest but I think me and the kids are gonna figure it out together. I think we have to.

30 Days of Madness

I am enamored by ridiculous feats of human achievement. Climbing Mount Everest. Swimming the English Channel. Actually Keeping Up with the Kardashians.

But I have been decidedly fascinated by triathlons. These multi-sport events are the ultimate tests of endurance and fortitude and chronicle the triumph of will and dogged perseverance over the limits of the human body. The pinnacle of this is the IronMan Triathlon—a global phenomenon that includes a 2.4 mile ocean swim, a 112 mile bike ride and a 26 mile marathon run.

To me, if you can simply complete one of these, no one can ever say anything to you ever again. No one can say what you didn’t do, that you’re lazy, that you can’t do something. It’s the ultimate response: “You do it.”

We have these sorts of literary challenges throughout the course of the year: there’s National Novel Writing Month, the 30 Day novel-writing competition; ScriptFrenzy—a 30 screenwriting challenge. There are writing prompts and blog tours, journal challenges and write-ins. But I want to do something drastic. Something crazy.

Something mad.

I’m creating my own triathlon, my own literary IronMan, if you will. I’ve done National Novel Writing Month. I’ve written a screenplay in 30 days. I have struggled to say something to all of you through this blog every other day. What if…what if I put them all together. What if? This is where you’re supposed to say “No, Chris, no! Don’t do it! It’s too risky!” And then I give you my best Ahab and scream “Risk be damned!” and turn the boat into the storm or some shit.

Here’s what I’m thinking: 30 days of writing frenzy. 30 days of novel writing. But what, there’s more. Add writing a script in those 30 days. And if you act now, we’ll add a 30 day blog tour to your order. That’s right! 30 days of novel, script and blogging for your literary pleasure. I thought about calling it Insanity but that punk ass Shaun T took that title. Considering the influx of Starbucks Double Shots and Mountain Dew, the lack of sleep and the sound of my characters droning in my head, 30 Days of Jibberish might be a better title. I think I’ll call it 30 Days of Madness.

30 Days. Of Madness.

But there have to be rules, right? Can’t have a triathlon with no rules, can we? 30 Days of Madness is composed of three, count em three, simultaneous events. The first is a NaNoWriMo-style novel writing challenge. 30 days, 50,000 words. Second is the ScriptFrenzy screenwriting challenge—same 30 days, 100 page script. Lastly, 30 days of blogging—30 days of posts of at least 500 words. At least. My plan is to put together a blog tour and squat on anybody’s blog that’ll have me. Barring that, I’ll let you decide the topic: 500 words. Every day.

No one says you have to choose something ridiculous like I am but take 30 days to do something different. Something novel. Something risky. No telling where you might end up. My commitment to insanity begins April 1—I figured April Fool’s Day was apropos. You can check out the specifics for my challenge here on my 30 Days of Madness Page.

Pick Your Battles

There are some things you don’t want to come home and catch your wife doing. Not things like the mailman (get out of the gutter, middle-schoolers!) but things like listening to Karen White’s Superwoman, going through your Facebook, or watching a Snapped marathon. Those things cannot end well.

For me, it’s walking in the house and seeing my wife on Walt Disney’s travel website.


Every year around this time, after 4 months of gray skies and endless rain, my wife gets restless. I start finding little notes around the house that say “All work and no play makes Jack a very dull boy.” I damn near break my neck in the middle of the night from the nightstand that’s suddenly on my side of the bed because “the feng shui was off.” I don’t know feng or shui—I wanna know why I can’t see my tv without becoming a damn Cirque du Soleil contortionist. In a few subtle ways, my wife lets me know she needs to get out of the house.

And where better to go than Disneyland?

Look, I don’t have personal feelings one way or another about Disney-anything. Their movies ain’t bad—some of them are actually funny. I loved The Incredibles. The horse in Tangled had me DYIN! Jessica Rabbit had a niiiiiice set of—say what? That wasn’t Disney? Really? With the cartoons and everything—no? Well…nevermind…

Like I said, I’m ambivalent. My wife is an addict. She is a Mousejunkie. She loves all things Disney—Disney movies, Disneyland, keeps trying to make me dress up like the Beast so she can be Belle. Addict. And after being trapped in Snowmageddon for 7 days with the kids while I was tragically “stuck” in Los Angeles, I had no argument when she held out her hand for a credit card to book a TEN-DAY TRIP TO DISNEYWORLD. What could I say?

A long time ago I got into an argument with a man about a raccoon. I used to be a claims adjuster for an Insurance Company That Shall Not Be Named. Suffice it to say I was pretty damn neighborly. Anyway, I had a client who had a raccoon break into his house, piss all over the place, drive his dogs crazy enough to scratch through the walls, and have babies in his attic. It was FAN-tastic! I got him all square except for these expensive-ass artic-rated sleeping bags. Couldn’t replace those—it was against the policy. Few days after I closed the file, the guy calls me to say he figured out how I could pay for the sleeping bags. It’s my job: I’m all ears. The call went something like this:

ME: So watcha got?

HIM: I think I figured it out: Vandalism.

I read the definition for vandalism: willful and malicious intent to cause property damage.

ME: Ummm, I don’t think this is gonna work, man. It says “willful and malicious intent.” It was a raccoon.

HIM: But it willfully and maliciously broke into my house and peed on my stuff.

ME: Come on, man. I don’t think it was malicious—the raccoon didn’t break into your house to pee on your stuff because it was yours. It did it because that’s what raccoons do.

HIM: But it did! It did it on purpose.

We went round and round on this for a while until I had an audience. All my co-workers are crowding around to see how I’m gonna handle the raccoon argument. I make the point that a child under the age of six can’t legally form intent; is he suggesting that the raccoon has greater mental capacity than a 6-year-old human being? Finally I say:

“Well, look, did you have it arrested?”

HIM: What?

ME: Did you have it arrested? You say it broke into your house and vandalized your stuff. If you show me a police report arresting the raccoon for vandalism, I will pay for your sleeping bags. Did you have it arrested?

HIM: No.

ME: Why not?

HIM: Because it’s a raccoon!

ME: Exactly!

And I hung up the phone.

I spent too much time on that call for something that wasn’t going to happen. Waayyy too much time. And I ruined his day and my own when I should have ended it right before it began. Funny or not, it was a battle I shouldn’t have fought.

In the end, you can’t win them all. I can’t fight the Disney machine (I did hand over the credit card); that man couldn’t get his sleeping bags paid for; Jessica Rabbit isn’t bad, she’s just drawn that way. And some battles aren’t worth fighting. They aren’t worth your time, your energy, your attention. So before you snap over that shitty review, engage in that negative Facebook conversation or speak up in that PTA meeting, STOP. Take a breath. Decide if this is a battle that’s really worth fighting. Everything else is just raccoon piss on sleeping bags: Not Covered.

Call A Spade A Spade or Own Your Shit

My brother calls a spade a spade when he sees it.

He has the uncanny ability to say what he needs to say, when he needs to say it, and consequences be damned. There’s not enough of that going on these days, this brutal honesty. Many of us hide behind political correctness or an aversion to conflict and use noncommittal jargon to smooth things over even when unhappy news needs to be shared. We shy away from saying what should be said, when it needs to be said. When it would be best.

He said something to me I didn’t appreciate. He told me I needed to “own my shit.”

He was right.


I’ve learned that the things people say to us, about us, the stuff that really sticks in our craws (I just wanted to use the word craw), the stuff that burns us up and has us blowing our tops in rage—that stuff tends to stick with us because it’s true. Because it’s true. Because someone had the audacity to highlight the thing about ourselves we like the least. This was one of those times.

I could call it a miscommunication or brush it off as a misunderstanding. What I was trying to do and what actually happened were two different things. I was screwing things up when trying to make them better and the even though my intentions where good…well…I wrote a whole book about what happens with good intentions (you can even buy it here).

Anyway, he told me I needed to own my shit. That I needed to take responsibility for my actions. I took particular exception to that. But after stomping around my house for 3 days, I started to see where he was coming from. Fine. I get it. Take responsibility. Fine. Own your shit. Yeah yeah yeah.

When I was a kid, my mother used to characterize our personalities in terms of ass-kicking (don’t ask me why—if you know my mom, it makes sense). She would say, “Your brother will tell you he’s gonna kick your ass and then do it. Right then. Your sister will tell she’s gonna kick your ass but not tell you when. But you, Chris, you won’t say shit. You’ll just walk up and kick somebody’s ass and they’ll never know why.” I used to think that was compliment. Thought it was some kind of Clint Eastwood-Marshall Dillon-law of the west-cowboy-ride off into the sunset kind of stuff. It’s not. It’s action without reason—there’s no ownership in it. Now I get it.

What’s my point, you ask? At the beginning of this year, I set some goals and made them pretty plain for everyone to see. Write this blog every other day. 2 book reviews per month. Do freaking P90X on a daily basis. Be about my shit. I missed my targets, at least for January. I’ve written 10 blogs but it should be 15, will complete 1 book review, and really don’t want to discuss my love-hate relationship with P90X. Hate is winning right now.

I didn’t own my goals like I should have.

Owning up to something and owning it are two different things. One of them requires an admission of responsibility; the other turns that responsibility into action. It’s both recognizing the error of your ways AND making changes to ensure it never happens again.

I made amends with my brother (well, I’m working on it). And I’m carving out time to be more diligent about my blog postings, my book reviews, and my exercise. And yesterday, after a dog bit my kid, I told the owner that if the Boy and the dog were in the same place at the same time again, I’d kill it myself. Owning my goals, my intentions, and my words.

Owning my shit.

Who Do You Think You Are?

I like to think of myself as a serious writer. Not like I’m serious about writing but that I write serious stuff. My subject mater is profound. I think deep thoughts like Jack Handy, have political opinions like Bill Maher, ponder the depths of the human condition like Jonathon Kozol. And when I consider my writing career, I always imagined tomes of philosophical weight streaming from my keyboard. I thought I would be crating literary expeditions into my nightmares or rollercoaster rides of suspense, not comedic hijinks or I’d-have-gotten-away-with-it-if-it-wasn’t-for-you-meddling-kids nonsense.

But that’s not who I am. Not entirely.

Truth is, as serious a writer as I like to think I am, I’m also the guy who knows he’s going to hell for laughing at a handicapped hockey game. Go back, read it again. I’ll wait. Yes, I said handicapped floor hockey. Wheelchairs and people with that one heel a little thicker than the other. Funniest shit I’ve ever seen. Seeing people fall will leave me convulsing in laughter but watching a movie where the dog dies makes me cry. I’ve found outrage at the antics of the Cincinnati Police department, pride at my president shutting up his critics, grief when two of my friends lost their own close friends.

I’ve never intentionally written a funny thing in my life but you guys—you magnificent people who participate and share in this little journey of mine—you all are quick to let me know what works and what doesn’t. You loved DMFRH because you could relate (or you have one down the hall or on your job). Or Hello Kitty because that shit happens to all of us. Or Shit or Get Off the Pot because sometimes we all need a swift kick in the ass to get moving. You let me know what touches you.

The larger literary community likes to put us in buckets, in little bubbles of stories and authors. The entire apparatus segments us as authors and readers, separating us in the name of efficiency, marketing and profits. Horror has a section in every bookstore and library. African-American literature earns half a shelf off to the side, or a table in the front during February. You have to wade through the Self-Help section and listening to all those titles tell you how much you suck before getting to the kids section. We are taught to think in categories and silos, in metatags and keywords.

You all have taught me that the human condition is all-encompassing, not broken apart. It is a cohesive, consummate process, one that envelopes fear and joy and pride and failure. We are not silos and categories and metadata. We are individuals who find horrible things humorous, who get embarrassed by medical terms to describe our body parts, who sometimes don’t fit inside our own skins.

For me, it’s about being the writer I am, being the man I am. Being the person I am. Embracing the components of my psyche and personality—including accepting that the wholly inappropriate is funny to me—and folding that into my words. You all have forced me to redefine who I thought I was as a writer.

Thank you for that.