Year-End Post Special: Twenty Things We Learned Blogging This Year

I am very grateful to the Holistic Wayfarer for including me in this great joint blogging effort! Thanks so much! This was a lot of fun to be a part of. This is just the kind of collaborative effort that makes WordPress the special community that it is.

A Journey into 2014, an Eye-Dancers Promotion, and Jumping Off of Cliffs

Ernest Hemingway once wrote, “It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”



A year ago, at the start of 2013, I had a distinct end in mind.  I wanted to spread the word as effectively as possible about my new YA sci-fi/fantasy novel, The Eye-Dancers.  Admittedly, generating a readership for the novel was my chief aim when I launched The Eye-Dancers website.



But then a funny thing happened along the way.  I began to enjoy blogging in and of itself, for no other sake than for the joy of interacting with fellow bloggers, a virtual worldwide meeting of the minds.  Now I won’t lie.  I still hope you will all buy a copy of The Eye-Dancers!  (More on that in a bit.)  But, far more important, 2013 showed me what a wonderful endeavor blogging can be.  I was blessed as the year went on to make many new online friends, share some tremendously enriching conversations, both on WordPress and through email, and to read so many great posts throughout the WordPress community.  This has been a fantastic year, and I thank each and every one of you for it.  You are the reason why The Eye-Dancers site is still here, and why I love doing this.



One of the things that has truly humbled me over the course of the past year are the awards The Eye-Dancers blog has received.  Recently, I was nominated for several awards that I had been lucky enough to win previously, but I wanted to take this opportunity to thank the bloggers who thought of The Eye-Dancers . . .

Thanks so much to D-Anna at Style Salvation for nominating me for the Best Moment Award; to Jennifer K. Marsh for nominating The Eye-Dancers for the WordPress Family Award; and to Sandra at the Quirky Books Blog for nominating The Eye-Dancers for the Dragon’s Loyalty Award, the Sunshine Award, and the Shine-On Award.  D-Anna, Jennifer, and Sandra have provided ongoing support to The Eye-Dancers over the course of this past year, and I can’t thank them enough.  I highly encourage everyone to check out their fabulous websites!




On two separate occasions this year, I decided to run a promotion for The Eye-Dancers, and now, as we make the leap from 2013 to 2014, I thought it would be a good time to run another one–very similar to the promotion that took place over the summer.



Just as with that promo, whoever purchases a copy of The Eye-Dancers during the promotional period will be eligible to win a gift card. . . .



Beginning today (December 27) and ending February 10, 2014, if you buy The Eye-Dancers, wherever it is sold, please notify me–either with a comment on this website, or via email at  I will keep track of  each person who buys the book during this time frame and then, on February 11, the day after the promotion ends, I will randomly select one winner.  The selected person will be awarded a gift card–to anywhere!  It could be to Amazon, a favorite restaurant or department store . . . it doesn’t really matter.  The choice will be yours.



The amount of the gift card will be based on the number of overall purchases of The Eye-Dancers during the promotional time period.  For each purchase, $2.50 will be earmarked toward the gift card.  (This is an increase from the $2.00 that was earmarked for each purchase during the last promotion.)  So, for example, if there are thirty purchases during the promotion, the gift card would be for $75 (30 purchases x $2.50 per purchase).  The gift card amount, in other words, will be determined by you!  The more purchases, the higher the amount on the card.

Please just remember that if you do purchase The Eye-Dancers during the designated promotional period to make sure and contact me so I can enter your name into the gift-card contest.

The previous winners of The Eye-Dancers gift-card promotion were Mel Fowle and Katie Sullivan.  Now it could be your turn!

The Eye-Dancers is available for purchase at the following online retail locations . . .


B & N:




So, yes, as you can see, I still am indeed hoping to sell many copies of The Eye-Dancers!  But just as Hemingway suggested, having a goal to aspire to is good, but the journey, yes, the journey . . . that is where the true joy and fulfillment are found.  And, because of you, the bloggers of the WordPress Community, this has been a truly rewarding year for me.  I can’t emphasize enough how welcome you made me feel when I was just starting out, how you encouraged me to keep writing and posting through your comments, Likes, and overall support.



I genuinely thank you, and look forward to what 2014 has in store.  I am eager to read your future posts, share in more conversations with you, and continue on this fascinating journey.



One of my favorite authors, Ray Bradbury, also penned one of my favorite quotes.  It goes something like this: “Jump, and you will find out how to unfold your wings as you fall.”



At the start of 2013, The Eye-Dancers website, fledgling, new to the blogging world, had in the neighborhood of 25 followers.  By the start of 2014, that number has grown to nearly 1,600.  It is that kind of support, that kind of community that makes all of this possible, and it’s why I can’t wait to begin 2014.



One year ago, I was standing at the edge of the blogging cliff, not sure if I should jump, take the plunge, take the risk . . . I am so glad I did.  Any wings this Eye-Dancers blog has been able to unfurl on the way down have taken form and spread because of you.



Thanks so much for reading, and for all the great and ongoing support.

Let’s make 2014 our best year yet.




The Night of the Meek

When one thinks of The Twilight Zone, words such as “strange,” “spooky,” and “science fiction” often come to mind–and rightly so.  But over the span of its five seasons and 156 episodes, Rod Serling’s masterpiece delved into many different subject matters and genres.  For all the scary or suspenseful Twilight Zone episodes, there were also quite a few that could be termed “touching,” “magical,” and “heartfelt.”

One such episode, a second-season story titled “The Night of the Meek,” starring the great Art Carney of Honeymooners fame, has long been one of my holiday favorites.



The story begins in a department store at Christmastime.  Children are lined up, waiting to visit Santa Claus.  The trouble is, Santa is nowhere to be found.

As we soon discover, Santa is sitting at a bar down the road.  No other patrons are there–just Santa and the bartender, a grouchy, tough-looking guy named Bruce.  The man in the Santa Claus costume is Henry Corwin (played by Carney), a down-and-out sort who has a penchant for drinking too much liquor.



Drunk, in a stupor, Corwin asks the bartender what time it is, realizing he’s late getting back to the department store.  Then he asks, “Why do you suppose there isn’t really a Santa Claus?”  But Bruce doesn’t want to talk.  He kicks Corwin out of the bar when he sees him reaching for a bottle without first offering to pay.

Stumbling around on the sidewalk, the night bright with falling snow, Corwin slumps against a lamppost.  Two children appear, one boy, one girl, attracted by his Santa costume.  Clearly they are poor, and they ask him for presents he of course cannot give.  The girl also asks for a “job for my daddy.”  Corwin puts his arms around them, cries, wishing he could help.





Then Rod Serling appears on-screen, and offers the opening narration:

“This is Mr. Henry Corwin, normally unemployed, who once a year takes the lead role in the uniquely popular American institution, that of a department-store Santa Claus in a road company version of ‘The Night Before Christmas.’  But in just a moment, Mr. Henry Corwin, ersatz Santa Claus, will enter a strange kind of North Pole, which is one part the wondrous spirit of Christmas and one part the magic that can only be found in–The Twilight Zone.”




When we next see Corwin, he is back at the department store, an hour late, and on the receiving end of a tirade from his boss, Mr. Dundee.

Trying to gather himself, though still drunk, Corwin sits in his chair and calls up the children, one by one, to ask him what they want for Christmas.  But then he falls out of the chair.

One boy exclaims, “Look, Ma!  Santa Claus is loaded!”

The mother is disgusted, telling Corwin he should be ashamed of himself.  He assures her that he is.  He tries to stop her, to explain himself further, but she barges out.



Mr. Dundee, livid, fires him on the spot.  He calls him a loser, a drunk, and tells him never to set foot in his store again.



Corwin pauses, tells his boss that his drinking on the job is inexcusable.  But then he goes on to explain, “I can either drink, or I can weep.  And drinking is so much more subtle. . . .  But as for my insubordination, I was not rude to that woman.  Someone should remind her that Christmas is more than barging up and down department-store aisles and pushing people out of the way.  Someone has to tell ‘er that Christmas is another thing, finer than that. Richer.  Finer.  Truer.  And it should come with patience and love.  Charity.  Compassion.  That’s what I would’ve told ‘er, if she’d have given me the chance.”

Mr. Dundee, desperate to get rid of Corwin, tells him again, in no uncertain terms, to leave.

Corwin continues, “All I know is, I’m an aging, purposeless relic of another time, and I live in a dirty rooming-house on a street filled with hungry kids and shabby people, where the only thing that comes down the chimney on Christmas Eve is more poverty!”

Dundee tells him to keep his voice down, he is causing a scene.  Parents and especially their children are watching, listening . . .

“You know another reason why I drink, Mr. Dundee?” Corwin says. “So that when I walk down the tenements, I can really think it’s the North Pole and the children are elves and that I’m really Santa Claus, bringing them a bag of wondrous gifts for all of them.  I just wish, Mr. Dundee, on one Christmas, only one, that I could see some of the hopeless ones, and the dreamless ones–just on one Christmas . . . I’d like to see the meek inherit the earth.”

Here the camera pans, showing the children’s faces, one by one.

“That’s why I drink, Mr. Dundee,” Corwin concludes.  “And that’s why I weep.”



He leaves the store, the kids watching as he staggers out.

Later, walking down an empty, snow-filled alley, Corwin is startled when a stray cat jumps out of a sack perched atop a collection of trash cans.  The cat’s leap causes the sack to fall to Corwin’s feet.  Suddenly, in the distance, he hears the sound of sleigh bells.  And he discovers, as if by some wonderful brand of holiday magic, that the sack is stuffed full with wrapped presents.



Excited, Corwin, still dressed as Santa, flings the sack over his shoulders, and races out of the alley, shouting, “Hey!  Hey, kids!  Hey, everybody!  Merry Christmas, everybody!”



As Corwin soon learns, the sack offers up the perfect gift to everyone.  When he reaches into the sack to give a present, it is always the one item the receiver most desires.

Word spreads throughout the neighborhood.  And a police office arrives, taking Corwin with him to the station, where Mr. Dundee awaits, having been summoned by the police, who believe Corwin must have stolen merchandise from Dundee’s department store and then stashed it away in his Christmas sack.



But when Dundee reaches into the sack, he pulls out garbage, not stolen goods, and another stray cat.

“It seems the essence of our problem is–we’re dealing with a most unusual bag,” Corwin jokes.  The officer tells him to get lost.

Back on the street, Corwin learns his sack has once again turned magical, producing gifts to every child he comes across.  Whatever they ask for, he is able to reach inside and hand it over.

Eventually, all the children leave, and the sack is empty.  Corwin looks at it, sits on a step.



Burt, an old man Corwin had given a present to earlier that evening, comes out and sits with him.  He points out that, though Corwin’s given gifts away all night, he never received a gift of his own.

“Nothing for you,” the old man says.  “Nothin’ for yourself.  Not a thing.”

But Corwin assures him he’s had the nicest Christmas since “the beginning of time.”  Besides, “You know, I–I can’t think of anything I want.  I guess what I’ve really wanted is–to be the biggest gift-giver of all time.  And in a way, I think I had that tonight.  Although if I had my choice of any gift, any gift at all, I think I’d wish I could do this every year.”

Corwin leaves Burt, walks into the same alley where he’d discovered his Christmas sack.  And he sees . . . a sleigh, two reindeer, and an elf!



The elf giggles, says, “We’ve been waiting for you quite a while, Santa Claus.  We’ve got a year of hard work ahead of us to get ready for next Christmas.”

The elf tells him to hop in the sleigh.  “Are you ready?” she says.  And they drive off, the reindeer galloping through the night and taking to the air.

In the closing narration, Rod Serling states in a voice-over:

“A word to the wise to all the children of the twentieth century, whether their concern be pediatrics or geriatrics, whether they crawl on hands and knees and wear diapers or walk with a cane and comb their beards.  There’s a wondrous magic to Christmas, and there’s a special power reserved for little people.  In short, there’s nothing mightier than the meek, and a merry Christmas to each and all.”




One of the primary goals I had when I wrote the novel The Eye-Dancers was to bring the magic alive, to inspire the belief that all things are possible to those who keep the faith, and that, in the words of Ray Bradbury, “The stars are yours, if you have the head, the hands, and the heart for them.”



My holiday wish for each of you is that you take a moment, pause, wander outside at night and look up, at the moon and the distant stars that sparkle like diamonds across the canvas of the sky.  Take it in.  Make a wish.




Thanks so much for reading, and happy holidays to all!


Where Fantasy Reigns . . .

Maybe for you it’s a particular song, perhaps some hard-rock favorite from yesteryear or a classical masterpiece that never fails to bring you to tears.



Maybe it’s poetry, an old, dog-eared book of favorites, verses that inspire you to see the beauty of the world when you need a lift.



Maybe it’s cooking a traditional family recipe on a cold winter night, the aroma of the food taking you back, back, to simpler days and more innocent times.



It can be anything, really, as long as it contains your own personal magic, that special blend of nostalgia and joy that has the power to transport you to a different place, a temporary refuge, an escape from the everyday routines and stresses that are so often present.



For me, the magic has always been found in comic books.  But not just any comic books–no.  Old comics, dusty and weathered with age, read and handled by children from a bygone era, with advertisements for sea monkeys and baseball gloves and old transistor radios.  And, perhaps most of all, with the musty smell of decades-old paper and ink.  I have always thought of this as the “magic smell,” one that stirs the senses and fires up the imagination, a scent that, if I allow myself to get lost in it, truly, makes me believe that all things are possible, and that the greatest stories in the world are still out there to be told.





In The Eye-Dancers, Mitchell Brant shares this love of collectible comics.  And in chapter one, the narrative describes what the old comic book smell means to him . . .

“He loved the smell of old comic books.  It was musty, but in a special way, like the smell of his grandfather’s attic littered with knickknacks and family mementoes.  A treasure-house smell.”




When I was growing up, in Rochester, New York, one of my favorite activities was browsing through some of the city’s comic book shops.  One shop in particular had a slogan I will never forget.

Boldly emblazoned on the front door were the words: “Where Fantasy Reigns But You Never Get Wet.”  It worked for me!  I still remember the first time I read those words.  I chuckled, shook my head, but also anticipated the wonder that waited within.  When I opened the door, a silver bell chimed, announcing my entrance.

The shop owner, Dan, lived in an old apartment behind the store.  His living space and his shop were separated by a door with chipped paint and a knob rusted with age.  At that time, in the late 1980s, Dan was probably in his midforties, a self-proclaimed hippie with a beard, a mane of thick blond hair that fell halfway behind his back, and a handful of silver chains around his neck, which jangled every time he moved.  He reminded me of the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz, and, from that day forward, I thought of him as The Lion Man.



And whenever I left his store, sometimes with a bag of newly purchased comics, sometimes with just a memory, I would always look forward to the next visit.  The Lion Man was like a stage performer, his comic book shop a house of magic full of gems from a different age, stories just waiting to be devoured.  Sometimes I would think of The Lion Man standing guard in front of some imaginary rainbow-colored bridge, which led to a vibrant world inhabited by green elves and talking forest animals, a world where dreams and wishes, the most daring wishes you ever hoped for, merged together into perfect actualities.



Certainly his comic shop seemed like just such a world.  I’d glance through the inventory, pausing at the high-end issues I knew I’d never be able to afford, pointing at other issues I wanted Dan to open up and show me before deciding whether or not to make the purchase.

One quirk of his shop was that he never priced his inventory.  “I’ll look up the issue in the Price Guide, and we’ll decide on the cost that way,” he said when I asked him where the price tags were.  It was a unique method–I’ve never run across it in any other comics shop, before or since.  Certainly, this wasn’t the place to shop if you were in a rush.  But that didn’t bother me.  I was never in a hurry to leave.

The Lion Man would flip through the issue I wanted to buy, noting its condition, and then he’d look it up in his trusty Overstreet Price Guide, still the industry standard when determining a comic’s value.  Sometimes I would debate the condition with him–a collectible comic’s condition tremendously impacts its sale price.  But eventually we’d hash out our differences and come to a price we both felt good about.  And when we did, The Lion Man would wink at me, place the just-purchased issue back in its protective Mylar sleeve, and we’d go on to the next one.




Several years later, the day came when there would be no next sale at Dan’s store.  When the Internet came along, with its myriad options of online buying and selling, Dan decided to close his shop. “I’m not gonna sell comics on a computer,” he said.  “Too impersonal.”  My knee-jerk reaction was to argue with him.  He could adjust!  He could put his inventory online, and do just fine.  But then I thought about it.

The Lion Man preferred to talk with his customers, bicker over the issue’s condition, haggle back and forth over the price.  While he may have been able to simulate some of that online, it wouldn’t be the same.  A customer wouldn’t be there with him, face-to-face, smelling that old comic book smell in his shop of magic and memories.  They wouldn’t hear the jingle of his silver chains as he shifted his position while flipping through the Price Guide.  They wouldn’t see him wink when a deal was reached.  No.  For Dan, for The Lion Man, it was the start of a new and alien age, and the end of a familiar one.



Sometimes, even today, I wonder how The Lion Man is doing.  It’s been years since his shop closed.  I haven’t spoken with him or had any contact with him this century.  But when I am feeling nostalgic, when a particular week is too hectic or a day too long, I sometimes think of that old comics shop, and I smile.

You may not have a Lion Man in your past, but I am betting that you do have something similar.

Something that, if you remember it, imagine it, go back to it, has the magic to take you away, on a gust of wind, flying high over the land and spreading your wings.

To a place where “fantasy reigns but you never get wet.”



Thanks so much for reading!


To Believe or Not to Believe . . . (Or, How Far Can You Run?)

Whenever you produce something, and enough people see it, there are bound to be critics.  The world’s great masterpieces are not universally loved.  And Oscar-winning movies elicit a wide range of opinions.

So it was one day, several years ago, when, during a free moment at a former job of mine, I had a disagreement with a coworker named Rob.  Rob was a good, reliable employee, neat, orderly, someone who painstakingly dotted his I’s and crossed his T’s.



He had an event planner on his desk that was always filled in months in advance.  If you were to look up the term “detail-oriented” online, you might just see Rob’s picture staring back at you.

I liked Rob.  He and I got along well–except when it came to movies.  We agreed every now and then, but most of the time we were the amateur version of Siskel and Ebert–always finding ways to contradict each other.  And on that particular day, he took aim at one of my all-time favorite films, Forrest Gump.

“It’s the worst movie I ever saw!” he exclaimed.  “Totally idiotic.  The guy runs across America.  For three years!”  (Actually, it was, according to Forrest, three years, two months, fourteen days, and sixteen hours, but who’s counting?)  “A superhero couldn’t do that!  It’s not humanly possible.  It’s completely illogical and stupid.”



I tried to explain that on many levels, Forrest Gump, based on the novel of the same name by Winston Groom,  is a fairy tale.  Not everything in the movie can be, or should be, taken literally–which is one of the many aspects of the film I love.



On the one hand it is the humorous, wacky, larger-than-life story of a man who always finds himself at the center of history-making events.  But on the other hand, it is a probing character study, a very personal story about Forrest and the people closest to him.  It is a rich, layered movie that never gets old, no matter how many times I watch it.

Rob wouldn’t hear of it.  He was able to accept many of the film’s eccentric qualities and plot lines (“I liked the ping pong,” he admitted), but Forrest running across America?  That’s where he drew the line.  Much like Marc Kuslanski, Rob could not, would not, get past the logic/commonsense divide.  No one can run across America for three solid years.  For him, the suspension of disbelief required to enjoy any fantasy was shattered during that scene.  It ruined the story for him, and, as much as I disagreed with him, it did get me thinking about the kind of speculative storytelling that stretches and challenges the imagination.  How do authors, screenwriters, television producers, creators, present fantasy in a way that most people can digest as believable and “real”?



For me, the “running sequence” in Forrest Gump works beautifully.  It fits the theme, tone, and style of the movie, and enhances the story.  But why?  How?  And, while there will always be some readers (or viewers) like Rob, who cannot take the leap you as the storyteller want them to take, what elements need to be in place to portray an “impossible” or improbable scene in a believable way, a way that an audience can enjoy despite (or perhaps because of) the logic gap that so angered Rob?

I believe the answer lies, as it so often does, in character.  Consider, for instance, the scene that precedes the Forrest Gump running sequence.  A constant theme throughout the movie is Forrest’s unwavering love for Jenny, his one and only girl.  From the time they were children, he and Jenny went together “like peas and carrots.”





Except–Jenny grew up, a very troubled person, and wandered the country, searching for a meaning and peace she never seemed to find.  She would occasionally cross paths with Forrest over the years, but usually they were miles apart.  He loved her, wanted to be her boyfriend, as he openly admitted, but she never seriously considered his offer.  “Forrest, you don’t even know what love is,” she tells him, assuming his low IQ prevents him from understanding and knowing. . . .

But then, after years of separation, Jenny returns, spends some time with Forrest at his home.  He calls it “the happiest time” of his life.





At one point, he asks her to marry him.  “I’d make a good husband, Jenny,” he says.  She agrees that he would, but when he asks her why she doesn’t love him, she just shakes her head.

“I’m not a smart man,” he says.  “But I know what love is.”



That night, for the first time, Jenny comes to him not just as a friend, but as a lover, telling him she does love him.  For Forrest Gump, this night is the one he has always dreamed of, the moment he has always longed for.  But then it all comes crashing down, a house of cards strewn and wrecked by a gust of wind.

In the morning, while he sleeps, Jenny leaves.  Without a word.  When we see Forrest next, there is no dialogue, no music, just a series of shots zooming in on him, silent.  We can feel his loneliness, his heartbreak.  From the crest of the highest, most exhilarating wave, he has fallen into the depths.  So what does he do?

In Forrest’s own words, during a voice-over that begins the memorable running-across-America sequence . . .

“That day, for no particular reason, I decided to go for a little run.  So I ran to the end of the road.  And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d run to the end of town.  And when I got there, I thought maybe I’d just run across Greenbow County.  And I figured, since I’d run this far, maybe I’d just run across the great state of Alabama.  And that’s what I did. . . . For no particular reason, I just kept on going.  I ran clear to the ocean.  And when I got there, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well turn around, just keep on going.  When I got to another ocean, I figured, since I’d gone this far, I might as well just turn back, keep right on going. . . .”

And for several minutes, we watch Forrest, now with long, uncut hair and a beard that would make even Santa green with envy, run through pristine mountain hollows and along winding country lanes.



Many things happen during the scene, which has its share of zany humor and entertaining encounters.  But at its heart, it is about Forrest dealing with Jenny’s departure.  “I’d think a lot” (as he ran), he tells us in a voice-over.  He’d think about his mother, his friend Lieutenant Dan, but, “most of all, I’d think about Jenny.”

And when, after more than three years, he finally stops running, he says:  “My momma always said, ‘You got to put the past behind you before you can move on.’  And I think that’s what my running was all about.”



Yes.  A three-year run across America is pretty far-fetched.  And yes, it would be near-impossible to do, on so many levels.  But we can overlook these things because the scene is, at its core, a response to something we can all relate to–hurt, rejection, a lifelong dream evaporating through your fingers like a hundred tiny pebbles scattering to the earth.  Needing to find a way to cope with loss.  Coming to terms with something that leaves a sour, bitter taste in your mouth every time you swallow.  It’s a fair assumption that none of us has ever run across a continent for three-plus years.  But we’ve all experienced the feelings that motivate this title character to journey on his fairy-tale marathon.

And that, I think, is the axle around which everything turns.  Certainly, when I wrote The Eye-Dancers, a story of parallel worlds and ghost girls that invade dreams, I was taking the risk every speculative fiction writer does–creating a story that might come across as too fantastic, too impossible, too “out there.”



But for every quantum leap across the void, for every haunted dream sequence, for every step further into a mysterious and alien world, there is also a quiet, small moment when one of the main characters laughs at a joke, or shares a childhood memory, or tackles an insecurity that has been gnawing away at him for years.

Forrest Gump, I think, would agree.  If we can create characters readers will root for, care about, become invested in, we can then, boldly and imaginatively, fly them across the empty, black reaches of space, or transport them through endless blue voids, or have them go on a journey to another dimension entirely.



So, all these years later, Rob, I still disagree with you.

Great fictional characters, characters we believe in, can take us anywhere.



Thanks so much for reading!


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