Saturday, December 24, 2011


Seven years ago...
Yesterday was my oldest kids' seventh birthday. Trey and Lindy, our only son and eldest daughter, the product of tears, and pain, and happiness, and love, and no matter what they do or how often they make us angry, the absolute joy of our lives.

Becoming a Father is, generally, easy. In the case of my little girls (who turn four in February), this was absolutely the case. Easy, and a little accidental. Less so in the case of our first- and second-born (Lindy was "born" two minutes behind her brother), but that's a story for another day. Still, even with the difficulties along the way, when you compare it to DADDYhood, fatherhood is a walk in the park.

One of the first thoughts I had when I found out I was having both a son and a daughter was, how on earth are we going to raise them? How do I raise my son to be a the kind of man who other men can look up to; the kind of whom I can be proud to point and say, "that is my boy?"  How do I raise a little girl who will understand and believe that she can do whatever she wants to do, and be whatever she wants to be; who knows that she is loved beyond anything she could ever fathom; who values knowledge and love and family?

How can I raise kids who will follow the Will of God, when I still struggle on a daily basis to do exactly that?

Becoming a father is simple. Any idiot with functioning parts can sire a child -- and many do. But being a Dad? Being in their lives and helping them to make good choices and become responsible members of the human race who will love God and their fellow man more than they love themselves? Impossible.


It's not possible to think of my kids' birthday without thinking of another, far more famous birth.

Yes, I know (in fact, most people know) that Jesus Christ wasn't born on December 25, 0 BC or 1 AD, or however it's actually labelled (I never really understood the system, to be honest). I also know that The Church co-opted a pagan holiday in order to give pagan cultures being integrated into Christian society something to celebrate other than nature and various other gods (and in fact, that this was also the basis for Easter).  Nevertheless, no other figure in History has made such a significant and lasting impact on global culture than has Jesus Christ, and you know, correct date or not, his birth OUGHT to be celebrated. All of which is to say, I don't care that He wasn't born on 12/25, so don't bother. I celebrate His birth on that day, and so do my wife and my children.

So, within the span of three days, we celebrate the birth of our oldest children, and of God's only Son, and I remember: I'm not the only man on earth who ever had to raise children. And, really, I have it easier than many. Look at Joseph: a guy who had to adopt the very Son of God! How inadequate he must have felt! I have to raise my Gifts from Heaven to live a life serving God; Joseph had to raise a Son who would save the world!

I don't know how Joseph did it; but I know now about the Hope that was born -- whatever day that was. And I know that, no matter how else I screw it up, if I can pass that Hope onto my own children, and remind them of the importance of that Holy Birth we celebrate right after their own, then they will be able to overcome whatever mistakes I make in raising them.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

A Character in my faith-based novel just dropped an 'f-bomb.' Now what?

A couple things about me. I don't often talk about it here, but yes, I am a follower of Christ. The magazine I edit, the websites I administer, and the work I do as a publisher and as a writer, are all done with the goal in mind of Glorifying Christ in one way or the other.

I also use "adult language." Not merely in my writing, but in general. Probably more than I should. I don't have an issue with swearing, exactly -- I've debated at length on the subject, and that's not really what this post is about (so bear with me, please) -- but I do see the value in expanding my vocabulary, and limiting the less-than-socially-acceptable speech, at least to an extent.

And, yes, more than one of my stories has featured some fairly strong language. Which can be weird for people.

So when I set out to write the current WIP, I had two goals in mind, apart from the obvious goals regarding direction, plotting, and theme: I wanted to point, without preaching, toward the light of God, and, I wanted to try to cut back on the language for this one.

However, I also believe in being honest and True when it comes to the story and the characters. A fellow writer once asked her friends whether their characters speak to them. To a person, each of the writers she asked said, "all the time."

I have been surprised by characters before -- indeed, it's one of my greatest joys when it comes to writing. I once set to work on a fishing horror story. In the story, a father and son are going fishing as they try to reconnect in the wake of the younger son's death. He died, of course, in a fishing accident. It wasn't until I got about halfway through the story, and really started to like both men and sincerely hope they could work it out, that I discovered the fundamental truth of the story: The accident that killed the younger son wasn't an accident; he'd been murdered by his own father.

When I started writing that story, I didn't know that. As far as I was concerned, it was going to go a different direction entirely. The Father was going to save his remaining son's life. They were going to reconnect and live happily ever after. They were possibly going to catch the Monster of the story, and maybe even be millionaires. And even if they didn't. Even if the creature still lurked in the dark lake, at least this relationship would have been healed.

The old man had me fooled.

It made me angry. I didn't delete the story, exactly, but I did determine he wasn't going to take his own kids with him, the old S.O.B. I rewrote the story. Completely. I don't know whether it was the right thing to do, but I couldn't be true to the story and remove what he had done. So, like last of Grimm's Fairy's I altered the scenario and removed a small portion of the tragedy. There was no redeeming the codger, but for whatever reason, I couldn't let his kids go out like that.

So, back to the current story. The point is, characters will be characters. You won't always approve of what they do; and they'll occasionally surprise you. So, in the heat of the moment, during an argument with a friend, centered around a girl with whom he may be in love, this character swore. The Queen-mother, as Ralphie might say, of all dirty words. I hadn't intended for him to do so, certainly. And I certainly hadn't intended for him to use that one. But there it is.

Yes, I know. This doesn't seem like a problem. Either leave it in, or take it out. Decide on the audience you're looking to attract, perhaps, and let that be your guide. It doesn't need to be there, still others are saying, so just hit the 'delete' key.

And I could. The narration is just fine without it. The cadence is still there. The meaning and emotion still intact. Yes. I could simply get rid of it.

But will it still be true?

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Dream of Zombie

Weird fact: when I watch horror movies, I generally don't have nightmares. There is one exception to this rule, about which I'll probably post another time; but in general, the above holds true. Given last night's adventures in Dreamland, I'm beginning to believe the opposite also holds true: if I don't get a fix of one kind or another of the scary, my unconscious mind will seek any outlet it can find. Usually when I'm sleeping.

What's funny is, as much as I view and read (and, my wife would say, obsess) about zombies, I almost never dream about them. I've had nightmares featuring serial killers, demonic possession, a black-clad headless guy with a badly-dressed spokesman (seriously -- it's one of my most vivid childhood dreams; remind me to tell you about it sometime), fires, drownings... but almost never zombies.

Strange: Usually it's Mario
Lopez who gives me
And then last night happened. For reference, The Walking Dead has been on a seasonal hiatus for two weeks now, and I spent the two hours before bed watching a Christmassy romantic comedy with my wife. In spite of where you think I'm going with this, I actually really enjoy watching sappy romantic comedies with my wife. Still... it's a weird coincidence.

Actually, neither Zac Morris nor the blonde on the right were in my dream last night. Unless they were zombies, which I suppose is possible. There were an awful lot of those wandering around.

In my dream there was a school. I think it was a school. It was large, nondiscript, and sterile. Empty. It was maybe the least interesting building I've ever seen. As I remember it, there were no banners, no posters, nothing to identify it as anything other than a ... building. I know there were at least two stories, and possibly a basement level. Stairs in the clean, white entryway. Come to think of it, there was a distinctness in the lack of markings of any kind on the floors and walls. Here was a building of few survivors, and rank upon rank of hungry, walking dead -- and yet no smears of blood, no bodies -- not even the telltale scuffmarks of dragging shoes. A blank canvass which my subconcious mind couldn't be bothered to decorate. 

(This is actually more frightening in my memory than it was during the dream itself. Dreams, after all, are built upon suspension of disbelief: it is the very unreality of the Dreamscape that becomes a part of the mundane backdrop to whatever story is playing itself out in your subconscious. I begin to wonder if this veneer of unreality is the mind's way of allowing you to cope with the substance of the dream: a subtle reminder that it's all in your head.)

Where was I? Right. There were survivors. A group of them, stuck in this school/hospital/whatever building, but who knew the Living Dead could be behind any door. The gist was, they wanted to leave, and not just because it was a creepy, blank building. At some point, before my daughter crawled into bed with us, the survivors had come up with a brilliant plan: use themselves as bait to lure the zombies into into an entryway, where most of them would exit the building, one would hop the stairs (entry blocked for your standard shuffling undead) and close the back door before exiting out a window. Great plan. If my subconscious may say so itself.

Plan set, my daughter woke us up, crawling into our bed. I went back to sleep, and something that never happens, happened: the dream continued. Only, this time, though the setting was the same, I was following a new cast of characters: The Walking Dead survivors. Rick and Co., as it turned out, had a similar plan in mind, and followed it, only added shooting. Some peripheral "characters" died getting out. Some made it.

Then came the real problem: turns out, while this second cast was doing its thing, Dream-cast #1, who knew nothing about the second crew, had been biding their time. They -- about 50 men, women, and children, made their way to the entryway... only to find that the previous group's excursion had attracted a large group of zombies to the front of the building.

Trapped. Flesh-eating dead in front, and slowly dragging in from behind.

And the alarm went off.

After about 20 minutes of hitting snooze and trying to solve the dilemma faced by my dream survivors (I was literally unable to sleep without figuring it out -- I was simply not willing to go back to sleep and put those dream kids at risk without having a way out), I finally gave up and turned off the alarm.

Incidentally, my daughter also informed me, after I hit snooze that first time, that she'd been having a nightmare. I'm honestly a little afraid to ask her about it.

Lesson learned: a lack of horror movies will make me lose sleep. Or, in this case, give me a nearly two-hour semi-waking nightmare. 

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Douglas Coupland and What We All Need

Thursday, I think, I found myself under an inexplicable urge to reread Douglas Coupland's Microserfs. To clarify, it wasn't the wanting to reread Coupland which was inexplicable, but the intensity with which this urge presented itself. Enough so that I went into my former "office" (which is now more of a very badly organized storage room) and dug through piles upon piles of books I'd forgotten I had until I managed to find it.

My friend Christian first loaned me this book, while I was in college. He seemed genuinely shocked and chagrined at my confession that I'd never read it, and had taken it upon himself to remedy the situation. Since then, Coupland has become one of my favorite authors, and Microserfs, probably my favorite book.

I've discovered, in myself, that I tend to be a lot about community. Belonging, really. I think that's one of the major reasons I've become such a fan of Coupland. Microserfs, in particular, isn't really about the 90s, or about technology, or the Geek Culture -- even as it's about all those things simultaneously. Really, it's about belonging. As Dan, the book's narrator, realizes in a very short time about the new company they've all run off to start: "It's no longer about work. It's about all of us staying together."

About the time in my life that I left for college, I became a very transient person. Though I've always been very family-oriented, I no longer felt that I had roots. Or, rather, I felt that I needed to transplant those roots into a field of my own choosing. I never stayed in a single dorm room or apartment for more than a year -- and that single year was not by choice. Mostly, if I stayed anywhere for a semester it was only because it was impossible to move once school had begun. After getting married, we lived for a short time in an apartment in Jackson, MI, then moved to LA while I continued my education in film. We moved back to Michigan, occupying, not counting the short stay with my sister, no fewer than four homes. We left there shortly after our first two kids were born and moved out to Northern New York, where we've only moved one other time -- from my wife's parents' house into a house of our own.

Roots can be funny things.

However, even in the transience, there has always been within an intense desire for community: to be part of something. I was raised in a close family; family is part of who I am as a person. It is as much part of my personality as my sense of humor and dislike of pop music. Community is a part of my DNA.

In college, it was manifest in my choice of friends and interests. Like Microserfs. It's worth mentioning that most of my college friends work with computers or in some technological field or another. I, meanwhile, couldn't code a three-digit calculation in BASIC. I told myself instead that working in radio and television counted as "geek," and that I fit into my adopted cultural niche by virtue of my nerdy obsession with media. And I guess that, to some extent, I did. More importantly, though, I fit in with my friends. Books like this one were actually more than merely good reading: they were something to talk about. They were part of our cultural identity: something that helped to make us who we were as a group. Though they could talk circles around me when it came to almost anything else technological (computers, graphics, gaming), we were on a level playing field culturally, and we had the benefit of genuinely liking one another. I'll get more in-depth with my various circles of college friends at another time, but for now the main thing is the simple understanding that it was the community which was important.

Ultimately, each of us belonged to something. The things we did, the decisions we made, were all run through the filter of The Group. This is not to say The Group had any type of veto power; it was enough to know that they cared about those decisions.

Community is not about place any longer. For me, and many others of my generation, it never has been. I'm among the first of the Internet generations: I grew up with the ability to connect with those outside my physical circle of influence, thanks to a simple BBS called Prodigy. My college life was defined by this same ability, but on a much grander scale: BBS sites, chatrooms, websites(!), internet gaming. We found we could keep track of our own little Group, even as members moved on to greener pastures, thanks to a BBS set up by some within our circle (MIB: Messages In Black). The circle was widened, and at the same time, brought closer.

Chatrooms and BBS became blogs and forums. Blogs and forums became Social Networking. All of it driven by the common human thread: the intrinsic need to be a part of something.

Microserfs is humanity on the brink of understanding the truest definitions of community. Even as it is a story about one man's search for family, it is also about his dealing with a world slowly going Global Village. In a story that takes place in 1993-1994, it's worth noting that one of the book's characters, Abe, remains a vital part of Dan's community, even though the two live hours away from one another, and communicate mostly via email.

Prophesies of the decade to come, perhaps.