In Praise of Clark Kent

Among the pantheon of comic book superheroes, Superman is the greatest and the first.  Indeed, prior to Jerry Siegel and Joe Schuster’s super creation in the spring of 1938 (in Action Comics number 1, DC Comics), comic books were decidedly ordinary with characters like private detective Slam Bradley and Scribbly the boy cartoonist.  Nothing wrong with old Scribbly!  But those early titles lacked the pizzazz and punch of the hero age.

 

Superman changed all that.  The world had never seen anything like him, and his popularity took off like a runaway locomotive.  The character’s popularity quickly led to the emergence of a star-studded lineup of other DC universe heroes:  Batman, the Flash, and Wonder Woman, among them.  Not to mention a collection of villains such as Lex Luthor, The Prankster, and Mr. Mxyzptlk.  The Man of Steel’s superhuman power and abilities, coupled with his otherworldly adventures, mesmerized readers every month, providing needed entertainment and relief as the 1930s bled into the war-ravaged 1940s.

 

But what truly made Superman so memorable?  What enabled him to transcend time and place?  How did he remain so popular decade after decade, despite changing styles, new generations, new worldviews?  I would argue that his alter ego, Clark Kent, had a lot to do with it.

 

Clark is the complete opposite of Superman.  Where Superman is brave, bold, daring, strong, Clark presents himself as hesitant, soft-spoken, bookish, and gentle.  Obviously, he does this as a guise, to conceal his identity as Superman.  (Incidentally, I have always thought it hilarious that Clark’s only “disguise,” when out of costume, is a pair of thick glasses.  As if observers wouldn’t be able to discern that Clark and Superman are one and the same merely on account of a pair of spectacles.  But, this, too, is part of Clark’s enduring charm.)

 

Clark, of course, is a reporter for the newspaper the Daily Planet, where he consistently acquires the best stories and photos–obviously because he is Superman and therefore is right in the middle of the action.  But no one ever figures this out.  Clark has his super intelligence, of course, and he is always one step ahead of those who would discover his legendary secret.

 

Clark Kent is a study in quiet, in calm introspection, in everyday blandness, in hominess.  He is the antithesis of the action hero.  He is milk and cookies at 8:00 p.m. while settling in to watch PBS.  He is a quiet evening in front of the fire reading Dickens or Austen or Montgomery or Hardy.  He is a weekend at home, writing in his journal, making a homemade meal, sipping hot chocolate, tending to his garden, walking to the mailbox, and heading to bed early.  He represents our home self, our quiet self, relaxed, in contemplation, at rest, still, taking a step back and allowing the world and its noise to slip on by.

 

And we need that.  Action stories need pauses.  Novels need moments of introspection, where characters reflect and where we get to know them better, settling in beside them as they sit back, recline, and let their guard down.  If Superman were only, well, Superman, all action and fighting and saving the world, it would be too nonstop, too frenetic, too loud.

We need Clark Kent to hit the pause button, ground us, make us smile, and charm us with his quiet, steady presence.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ll always be a Superman fan.  The Man of Steel’s adventures never disappoint.

 

But if it weren’t for Clark Kent coming onto the scene from time to time, those adventures would surely be less enjoyable.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

From the Micro to the Macro (Or, a Red Squirrel Tells a Story)

Imagine this situation.  A writer (let’s call her Jane) has a story idea–something that resonates, will not recede into the background, and something that, as if having a life of its own, continues to progress and grow and mature.  Jane is fired up, enthusiastic, and prepared to put in the long hours to craft a novel.

But she hesitates.  Despite wanting–needing–to write it, she pauses and thinks about it.  Her mind is all too ready to issue doubts and protestations, reasons to chuck the project and go back to reading others’ work instead of creating her own.

 

“Your idea’s too small,” her inner critic says.  “It’s so common, so run of the mill.  It’s just day-to-day family stuff, domestic life.  Who cares?”

Jane shoots back that she cares, and, as the author of the piece, doesn’t that count?  Doesn’t that matter?

But her inner critic is unrelenting.  “You have to come up with something bigger.  Bolder.  More exciting and universal.  Don’t waste your time on what you have now.”

Angered by the thoughts swirling in her own head, Jane feels an urge to punch . . . what?  Her own thoughts?  Her own doubts and fears?  But how can she do that?  And besides, maybe her inner doubts are right.  There is little violence in her story.  No international politics or major business deals.  No espionage.  The movers and shakers of the world do not appear.  It’s insular, isolated, just a mother, a daughter, a beloved cat.  A few friends.  Small-town settings, and small-town goings-on.  She’s writing about her memories.  Her loves and passions.  But they are small.  Who will care?  Who will be engaged with any of it?

 

She sleeps on it, tossing and turning through the night.

Early the next morning, Jane takes a walk through the woods that surround her home.  It is fall, there is a bite to the air, but it is invigorating, wakening, a tonic to her senses.  Fallen leaves crunch under feet.  Squirrels chatter nearby, scolding her for the intrusion.  Chipmunks dart to and fro, preparing for the winter ahead.  Songbirds twitter, mostly unseen, from the trees.  A particularly brazen red squirrel darts in front of her, on some mission that, evidently, cannot wait.

 

And that’s when she realizes.

To that rushing squirrel, at that moment, in this remote, out-of-the-way corner of the globe–no human voices to be heard, no car engines roaring in the distance, no city noises or excitement for miles around–this is the universe, the be-all and end-all.  It is everything.  Perhaps no one but Jane will ever know of this squirrel.  Perhaps her eyes are the only human eyes who will ever see it.  But that doesn’t matter.  This squirrel’s mission, this squirrel’s task, is the most important thing in the world, here and now, in this place.

 

And, she realizes, isn’t that the same for us?  For the lonely widow with no one to talk to you?  For the homeless person, down on his luck, trying to figure out a better way?  For the high-end executive, alone, at night, stressing over the details of the latest progress report?  For the little boy or girl, with two days before summer vacation, looking forward to two months without homework?  For the neighbor down the street who everyone disregards as “boring” and “dull” and doesn’t really talk to?

We all have stories.  Our lives are comprised of moments, thoughts, hopes, dreams, triumphs, sadness, and countless “mundane” things that make up the bulk of day-to-day living.  To us, as individuals, our “little problems” are the universe.  They are our stories.  And they are worth sharing.

 

Because what you are feeling today, countless others are, too.  What I am struggling with in my day-to-day, many others are, too.  Are there differences?  Of course.  We are each our own person, with our own unique set of experiences and thoughts and feelings.  But there is a thread, invisible perhaps, but as real as the air we breathe, that links us.  We are both unique and universal, individuals and a part of the whole.

There is no such thing as a story “too small,” a subject too “mundane.”  If someone is living it, feeling it, if someone is moved by it, then it can reach others, too.  It can serve as both a window and a mirror, a reminder that we are all different, but all inextricably connected.

 

So, if you have an idea about a “small” thing, a particular “mundane” situation, write it.  Share it.  Give it to the world.

We will all be better for it.  And, if we are looking, really looking, we will see the macro in the micro, and recognize ourselves in the story.  And maybe, even learn something new about ourselves (and those we know) along the way.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

A Retro Promotion–with a Twist (Or, The Three-Foot Man Who Came to Bat)

Bill Veeck was a showman.  He always had been.  But this time, he was determined to cook up a scheme that would top them all.

 

In the dog days of the late summer of 1951, Veeck’s team, the St. Louis Browns, were mired in yet another forgettable season.  The Browns–who later moved to Baltimore and rechristened themselves the Orioles–were a perennial basement dweller, and the fans in St. Louis took note.  Attendance was spotty year after year.  St. Louis belonged to the crosstown rival Cardinals.  The Browns were an afterthought.

To combat this, Veeck, the Browns owner, came up with an idea.  What if he rostered a man under four feet tall and sent him up to bat?  On the afternoon of August 19, 1951, in the second game of a doubleheader between the Browns and the Detroit Tigers, the sad-sack team from St. Louis did just that.

 

Enter Eddie Gaedel.  Gaedel, twenty-six at the time, stood three feet seven inches tall and weighed in at sixty-five pounds.  But prior to Gaedel’s bizarre plate appearance, both Veeck and Gaedel kept things under wraps.  Between games of the doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Gaedel burst through a papier-mache cake.  “Is that all?” the fans wondered.  Veeck had promoted the event as something people would never forget, a “festival of surprises.”  Having a miniature-sized young man emerge from a fake cake between games was not exactly riveting material.

 

But Veeck had the last laugh, and the “festival” was most assuredly on.

In the bottom of the first inning of the second game of the doubleheader, the Browns pinch-hit for their leadoff batter, Frank Saucier.  And the man who they sent up to hit for him?  None other than Eddie Gaedel.

 

The home-plate umpire protested.  What was this?  But Browns manager Zack Taylor provided a copy of Gaedel’s contract–Veeck had been prepared for just such a challenge from the umpire, and had the foresight to arm his manager with the contract, just in case.

Satisfied that the circus materializing before him was in fact on the up-and-up, the umpire allowed the action to proceed.

The Tigers pitcher that day, Bob Cain, laughed at Gaedel from the mound.  But he pitched to him.  Gaedel, wearing the number 1/8 on his uniform, was under strict orders not to swing the bat–just take the pitches thrown his way.  Though tempted to take a cut at the ball, Gaedel followed the plan, and, with such a tiny strike zone, he was awarded a walk on four pitches–all high.

 

On his way to first base, Gaedel twice paused to bow to the crowd, who cheered him on wildly.  He was summarily replaced with a pinch runner, and, on his way back to the dugout, Gaedel received a standing ovation.

 

The Browns, as was their custom, would go on to lose the game, 6-2.  And the very next day, American League president Will Harridge voided Gaedel’s contract, claiming it made a mockery of the game.  Gaedel never appeared in another Major League contest.  But for one day, for one at bat, Eddie Gaedel stood tall and forever forged his place in baseball lore.

 

********************************************

I don’t pretend to have come up with a promotion that compares with old Eddie Gaedel’s single plate appearance sixty-seven summers ago, but I am reenacting a promotion I’ve used a few times before–with a twist.

In years past, I would sometimes run an Amazon gift card promo for The Eye-Dancers.  I now propose to do the same thing for the sequel, The Singularity Wheel.  (But The Eye-Dancers still factors in, if applicable!  Stay tuned.)

 

And so, for anyone who is thinking of purchasing The Singularity Wheel, the next month offers an intriguing opportunity.  Beginning today, April 4, and ending Sunday, May 6, anyone who purchases The Singularity Wheel will be eligible to win an Amazon gift card.  Here is how it works . . .

 

Between April 4 and May 6, if you buy The Singularity Wheel (either as an e-book or a paperback, your choice!), please notify me–either with a comment on this website, or via email at michaelf424@gmail.com.  I will write down the name of  each person who buys the book during this time frame on a small slip of paper, fold the paper, and, in old-school fashion, place the paper in a jar.  Then, on May 7, the day after the promotion ends, I will randomly select one of the names from the jar.  The selected person will be awarded the Amazon gift card.

amazongift

The amount of the gift card will be based on the number of purchases of The Singularity Wheel during the promotional time period.  For each purchase, $1.50 will be earmarked toward the gift card.  So, for example, if there are thirty purchases during the promotion, the gift card would be $45 (30 purchases x $1.50 per purchase).  The gift card amount, in other words, will be determined by you!  The more purchases, the higher the amount on the gift card.

 

I’ll draw the winner’s name on Monday, May 7, and will email the good news to the winner, and immediately award them the gift card.

Where does the first book, The Eye-Dancers, come in to play?  Well, for everyone who has already purchased The Eye-Dancers (and thank you to all!), it doesn’t.  But if you have not purchased The Eye-Dancers, it makes sense for you to read that first since The Singularity Wheel is a sequel.  With that in mind, if you do not already have a copy of The Eye-Dancers on hand and you take part in this promotion, as soon as you inform me that you’ve purchased a copy of The Singularity Wheel, I will promptly email you a file of The Eye-Dancers for free.  And the file can be in whatever format you prefer (PDF, epub, or mobi).

 

I hope you will take part in this promo!  While, admittedly, it’s not in the same league as Bill Veeck’s 1951 “festival of surprises,” it does offer an opportunity to win a (hopefully) substantial gift card!  And again, as a reminder, if you do buy The Singularity Wheel during the designated promotional period, please make sure to contact me so I can enter your name into the gift-card contest.

 

To buy a Kindle copy of The Singularity Wheel, please click here.

To buy a paperback copy, please click here.

And, unlike Eddie Gaedel nearly three-quarters of a century ago, there’s no need to leave the bat on your shoulders.  Feel free to swing for the fences.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

“The Singularity Wheel” Is Now Available as an E-book! (Or, “This Is Next Year!”)

When the 1955 baseball season opened, fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers wanted to believe–but couldn’t quite get there.  It’s not that the Dodgers weren’t talented.  Every year, they fielded a winning team, a championship-caliber team replete with All-Stars such as Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider, Pee Wee Reese, Roy Campanella, and Gil Hodges.  The thing was, the Dodgers were the ultimate tease.  Since 1941, Brooklyn’s beloved baseball team had made the World Series five times, and each time they lost to the cross-town rival New York Yankees.

 

 

Heading in to 1955, nothing seemed to be different.  The Dodgers were still great, but so were the Yankees.  What was worse, the Dodgers were getting older.  The window was closing.  Players like Robinson and Campanella were on the back end of their careers.  They couldn’t last forever.  No doubt, the Flatbush Faithful must have questioned that spring if their Dodgers would ever win the Series and dethrone the Yankees.

 

Heartbreak was a by-product of rooting for the Dodgers.  At the end of every season, when their team came up just short, the fans would proclaim, “Wait till next year!”  It was a rallying cry that had endured for decades.  To be a Dodgers fan in the mid-twentieth century, you had to be patient, willing to stick with your team despite coming so close season after season.

 

And so even after the Dodgers powered their way to the National League pennant that summer of ’55, winning by a comfortable thirteen-and-a-half games, their fans remained skeptical.  Sure, they were going back to the World Series.  So what?  That was old news.  And so was their opponent–the Yankees.  Another Dodgers-Yankees Subway Series was in the offing.

 

The Series did not start well for Brooklyn.  They lost the first two games in Yankee Stadium.  “Here we go again,” the Dodger faithful must have thought.  “Wait till next year.”  But then a funny thing happened.  As the Series shifted to Ebbets Field, the Dodgers took all three home games, forcing the action back to Yankee Stadium.

 

The Yankees won Game 6, but in Game 7, the Dodgers shut out their arch-rivals, 2-0.  Finally–after decades of coming up short, the Brooklyn Dodgers had won the World Series.  This was, at along last, “next year.”

 

***************************

And now, after four-plus years of writing, editing, and revising, The Singularity Wheel is available on Amazon.  By no means am I equating the sequel to The Eye-Dancers with the legendary Brooklyn Dodgers!  And four years is but a fraction of the decades-long dry spell the Dodgers experienced–but it is good, and rewarding–after so many delays along the way–to release the book.

 

The Singularity Wheel is currently available only as e-book.  You can find it here . . .

The paperback version will be released in February.

Honestly, it’s an odd feeling to be done with the book.  It’s been a part of me for so long.  For the past half-decade, not a day has gone by where I haven’t stressed over some character’s motivation or some sticking point in the plot.  But there is also relief, and a deep gratitude to all of you, who have encouraged me and supported me along the way.  I can’t thank you enough.  And I look forward to blogging with you throughout 2018 and beyond.

 

For right now, this is, indeed, “next year” for The Singularity Wheel.

 

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

The Value of Ten “Bucks” (Or, The Belated Announcement of a Book Release)

When I was nine years old, back on a summer day in the now all-too-vintage 1980s, I made a bet with my older brother John.

We were in the swimming pool, in our neighbors’ backyard across the street.  Lucky for us, growing up, our neighbors had an open-door (or, perhaps in this case I should say, open-water) policy with their pool.  I used to swim in their pool almost every day that summer.  But this day, something different happened.

 

“I’ll bet you ten bucks you can’t swim six laps underwater without coming up for air,” my brother crowed.  He was nine years my senior, and had just graduated from high school.  He was riding high that summer.

 

“You’re on,” I said.  I doubted I could do it.  The most number of laps I had ever swum underwater was four–six would push my lungs to the breaking point.  But ten dollars was a lot of money to a nine-year-old, especially back then.  I was all-in.

 

“This’ll be fun to watch,” John said, and waded over to the side of the pool.

“Ten bucks?” I called over to him, just to be sure.

“There’s no way you can do six laps, Mike,” he said.  “But yeah, if you shock me, the offer stands.  Ten bucks.”

That was good enough for me.  I didn’t hesitate.  I dove under and completed the first lap.

The next couple of laps were easy–I was feeling strong and still had plenty of air in reserve.  But by the time I completed the fourth lap–my old limit–I was starting to suffer.  My lungs were growing hotter, my arms and legs were getting tired.  But I pushed on, kicking harder.

 

I completed the fifth lap.  One more to go.  I nearly gave up then and there.  My chest was on fire.  I worried I might black out.  It was agony to attempt that final lap.

But I did, and when I tapped the opposite side of the pool to finish the sixth lap, I rose to the surface, gasping for air.  Oxygen had never tasted so sweet.

 

“Wow,” I heard my brother say.  I was vaguely aware of him approaching me, swimming toward me from the other side.  “I can’t believe you did it.”

I wasn’t able to respond for several seconds.  I continued to take deep breaths, savoring the air.  Finally, when my lungs had sufficiently recovered, I said, “What about those ten bucks?”  As I had propelled myself through the water on that final lap, it was the promise of the ten dollars that made it seem worthwhile.  That and seeing my brother admit defeat.

 

“Oh, sure,” John said.  “That was the deal, right?  Ten bucks.” And he proceeded to punch me, lightly, on my arm–ten times.  “There you go,” he said.  “There’s your ten bucks!”

With that, he got out of the pool, dried himself off with a towel, and bent over laughing.

 

I never did see that ten dollars.

****************

Looking back, benefited by the cooling perspective of time, I remember the incident fondly.  It’s a memory of childhood I’ll always carry with me–and to this day, I remind my brother of his antics on that long-ago afternoon.  All in good fun, of course.

But as the editing process for The Singularity Wheel–the sequel to The Eye-Dancers–has dragged on through various and sundry delays these past few months, I have thought often of that phantom ten dollars.   I’ve pushed the release date of The Singularity Wheel back half a dozen times, to the point where it almost began to seem like it would never be released, that it was a ghost-book, a figment, as immaterial as pollen on the wind or the light, feathery strands of gossamer in the dark heart of a primeval forest.  How many times would I say the release was imminent, only to see it pushed back?  Was my word no better than my brother’s that day, decades ago, in the neighbors’ pool?

 

Now, however, I can at last report that the manuscript is finished, the edits done.  After a seemingly endless catalogue of revisions, of much gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair and debates with characters, the story is truly over and done.  Even now, I have a hard time admitting that.  After all, no story is without flaw.  Even Anna Karenina and The Grapes of Wrath have warts.  Nothing created, nothing put to the page is without blemish.  There is always something, some word, some turn of phrase, some snippet of dialogue that can be made better.  Saying, “I’m done,” is one of the most difficult aspects of the creative process.  But here, today, I can finally say it.

 

The Singularity Wheel is far from perfect.  No doubt it is chock-full of issues and shortcomings.  But it’s the best I can do.  After four and a half years of working on it, there are no stones left to be turned, no closets remaining to open.  For better or worse, this represents my full and utmost effort.

 

So it is with great relief that I say, The Singularity Wheel will be released, on Amazon, within the next fortnight.  The files are being readied for publication, the last steps in the process are being completed.  My birthday is January 26.  The goal is to release the book prior to that date.

 

And this time, once and for all, that represents ten bucks you can most assuredly take to the bank.

Thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Putting the Face to the Name, or the Cover to the Book

When I first got out of college, I found a part-time job as a legislative aide for the City of Rochester, New York.  It wasn’t exactly the field of my choice, but it did involve some writing, and it served as worthwhile experience.  I was thankful to have the job.

 

I didn’t stay there long–only seven months.  But while my tenure as a legislative aide was brief, it was not without a healthy helping of intrigue, office politics, and political pugilism, as I served as the buffer (i.e., punching bag!) between the councilwoman (who was rarely in her office) and her constituents.  Indeed, one of my job responsibilities was to man the councilwoman’s phone, talking one-on-one with the residents of her district.  Some of the calls were low-key; but many were heated, with angry residents giving me an earful about perceived slights and local policies they disagreed with.  Each new day was an adventure.

 

There was one person who stood out from the pack, though.  His name was Terry, and he called several times per week, sometimes several times per day.  He had a laundry list of complaints, and he wasn’t shy about expressing them to me, usually with a raised voice.  One issue in particular that irked him was a pothole on his street.  “It’s huge!” he’d yell at me.  “You gotta fix it!  It’s gonna wreck my struts.  I ain’t rich, you know.  Tell ‘er that!”  (He always referred to the councilwoman as “she” or “her,” or some variant thereof–never by name.)

 

I listened to him as long as I could, letting Terry vent his frustrations.  Sometimes, though, he would start attacking me, personally.  “Do something about it!” he’d say.  “Don’t just sit there in that cushy office of yours.  Lift a finger for the people in your district for a change!”  I reminded him that I wasn’t on the city council.  I was only an office worker.  I couldn’t make or change policy, couldn’t direct the road crews to alter their service schedules.

 

One day, it was too much.  Terry berated me with four-letter words and insults directed at family members of mine he didn’t know and had never met.  “Sorry,” I told him.  “This isn’t going anywhere.”  I wanted to say so much more, but had no choice but to bite my tongue.  One thing I could do, however, was hang up the phone–which I did.

 

He called back immediately, yelled at me some more.  I hung up again.  He called back.  Yelled.  I hung up.  Finally, the phone stopped ringing. I tossed a crumpled piece of paper into the wastebasket, counted to ten.  Terry had a way of pushing my buttons.

 

I had long since created a mental picture of him.  I’d never seen Terry, but, based on his voice and his very direct and colorful vocabulary, I imagined him to be stocky, burly, with short, sandy hair, a thick, retro’80s-style mustache, and a perpetual scowl on his face.  If I wanted to, I would have been able to sketch a picture of him–he was that clearly defined in my mind’s eye.

 

Consider my surprise, then, when, later that same day, a tall, rail-thin bald guy showed up at the councilwoman’s office.  Of course, the councilwoman wasn’t there.  I was.

“Can I help you?” I said.

And the guy introduced himself as Terry.  I did a double-take.  He couldn’t have looked more unlike the Terry I had imagined.  Stocky?  The man standing before me now was easily six foot four if he was an inch.  Burly?  He had the girth and width of a rail spike.  Sandy hair?  Try no hair.  Mustache?  His face was clean-shaven, not a whisker in sight.  And a scowl?  He was actually smiling!

 

He extended a hand.  Discombobulated, I took it.

“I just wanted to apologize,” he said, looking at his shoes.  “Was in the area just now, and wanted to stop.  I know I got a little carried away on the phone today.  I know you can’t do nothin’ about nothin’.  It’s not your job.  So I just . . .”

I shrugged.  It was hard to find the words.  Finally, I told him not to worry about it.

“I ain’t sayin’ I won’t call again,” he said.  “You’ll hear from me until she does something.”

He smiled again, and this time I returned it.  “It’s good to put a face to the name of my highest-volume caller,” I said.  And it was.

 

Terry called the next day, complaining about the pothole.

***********************************

Books can share certain characteristics with constituents.  They don’t scream at you, the way Terry sometimes laid into me, but they might make you want to scream.  They have value, share opinions and knowledge, and express a point of view.  What’s more, they are incomplete without a face, or a cover.

The Singularity Wheel–the sequel to The Eye-Dancers–is nearing its release date.  It’s still on target for publication at the very end of the year or within the first few days of 2018.  And now, as the day of publication approaches, the cover is complete.

My longtime friend Matt Gaston, who also created the cover for The Eye-Dancers, has worked his magic again on the cover for The Singularity Wheel.  And here it is.

 

Thanks, Matt, for all your help–with both novels.

I think even Terry would approve.

And thanks so much to everyone for reading!

–Mike

On Symmetry (Or, There’s Something about November)

“Hey, how about that?” I said when I received the schedule for my senior year in high school.  I had been waiting for it for a few days, eager to see who my teachers were and what order my classes would be in.  (Mind you, these were the days, in that long-ago 20th century, when class schedules were snail-mailed.)  For three days, I had been watching for the mailman, a rotund fellow by the name of Al, to deliver it.  Finally, the schedule had arrived.

 

The first thing I noticed was that one of my teachers would be someone I knew well, someone who had taught me in a different class as a freshman.  I will call him Mr. D.  And back in my freshman year, he taught English and unlocked for the class the treasures of great literature and the colors of the writing rainbow.  But now, in my senior year, he would be teaching a class called Current Events.  Great, I thought.  I always liked Mr. D.

 

On the first day of school, I lingered after class for a couple of minutes, talked with him about what might be in store for the semester, reminisced about ninth grade.  “Freshmen,” he said with a roll of his eyes.  He still taught freshman English, too.  In fact, even as we spoke, the first brave souls of his freshman English class began to trickle in to the room.

 

I told him about the impact his writing rainbow lesson had on me, how I still thought about it, still tried to live it, and always would.  That made him smile.  I asked him if he still talked about writing rainbows and creativity and reaching for your best to the current crop of freshmen.  “Indeed, I do,” he said.  I was glad to hear it, and hoped some of the wary underclassmen filtering into the room, eyeing me suspiciously as I conversed with the teacher at his desk, would be as motivated by the lesson as I had been.

 

“Well, it’s good being back in your class,” I said then, knowing I needed to go.  If I didn’t leave soon, I’d be late for my next period.  “I look forward to the semester.”

And I did.  I meant it.  And it didn’t disappoint.  Mr. D. didn’t disappoint.  Throughout the term, he assigned for us to read through issues of Time and Newsweek, and report on the news, every week.  (Again, this was early 1990s education!  No Googling.)  Frequently, my worldview clashed with his, and we’d have spirited debates.  He’d write in the margins of my handwritten essays that he disagreed with my interpretation of events but that he supported my right to hold views contrary to his own.  We argued, we clashed about politics, but I enjoyed the class.  And, I like to think old Mr. D. enjoyed having me as his student again.

 

One morning, a frosty, early November, hint-of-winter morning, I arrived in his class a few minutes early.  Since it was the first period of the day, there were no departing students from a previous class.  It was just Mr. D. seated at his desk.

 

I approached, and we started talking.  I mentioned again how it was good having the opportunity to take a class he taught.  “I never thought I’d be in your class again,” I said.  “Freshmen year and now senior year . . .”

“There’s a kind of symmetry to it,” Mr. D. said.  “You got stuck with me at the start, and at the end, of your high school career.”

 

A kind of symmetry, yes.  I liked the sound of that.

*******************

It’s hard to believe it’s been almost five years since I published the e-book version of The Eye-Dancers.  Time continues to speed along on rapidly fluttering wings.  I remember well the stops and starts that led up to publication day.  There were hiccups, hurdles, and unexpected delays.  But eventually, release day arrived–in November 2012.

 

So it seems fitting somehow that, five years later, there have been delays and hurdles and hiccups with the sequel, as well.  Editing has taken longer than expected.  The writing process has taken longer.  And of course sometimes things simply crop up, a week’s delay here, a month’s there.  The end result has been a later-than-originally-anticipated release date.  But The Singularity Wheel is getting close!  I am working through the final substantive edits this week and next.  Following that, a few heaven-sent beta readers will comb through the manuscript.  Once they are done reading and offer feedback, I will do a final, final round of edits followed by a thorough copy edit/proofread.  The cover will be completed.  The file readied for publication.  And . . .

 

A November release date is planned.  Five years, to the month, following the release of The Eye-Dancers.

There is something about November, indeed.

 

As Mr. D. might say, there’s a kind of symmetry to it.

Thanks so much to everyone for all your ongoing support.  It means the world.  And thanks so much, as always, for reading!

–Mike

 

Author Interview with Nicholas Conley

Recently I had the pleasure of reading Pale Highway, a novel by Nicholas Conley.  Nicholas has been a longtime follower and supporter of The Eye-Dancers blog, and I am thrilled to feature him here.

In this season of thanksgiving, I am reminded of all the wonderful virtual friends I’ve made since launching this website over three years ago.  As I’ve said several times in previous posts, when I began The Eye-Dancers blog, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I’d never blogged before, and was a neophyte in ever sense of the word.

The great people of WordPress welcomed me right from the start, and it’s been a pure joy to be a part of this very special community.

Nicholas was one of my earliest followers, and it’s an honor to interview him today.

If you haven’t visited his blog, I highly recommend that you do so, and his latest novel, Pale Highway, is a fantastic read and an impeccably crafted work of literature.

palehighway

I hope you enjoy the interview!

*************

1. I’m always fascinated by titles. I know, for me, sometimes a title comes before I even write the first word of a story. Other times (as with the WIP I am writing now), titles are elusive, shy, hiding in the literary underbrush and daring you to find them. How was it with Pale Highway? It’s a wonderfully evocative title. Did it come to you early on in the process? Or did it come much later?

I know what you mean, I love titles. For me, I can’t even start writing a story until I know the title, because so much of my central narrative is always framed by whatever concept the title evokes. When I first started researching for Pale Highway, I spent a long time pondering possible titles, most of them relating to Gabriel’s dementia, but nothing felt like it quite captured it. Then, there was one night where I just got this lightning bolt to the head, and this title—Pale Highway—came to me out of nowhere. When it did, it was the first time I truly understood what the novel was about, and the message that Gabriel’s story had to say about the human condition.

 

2. In a similar vein, each individual chapter has its own title. Did that prove to be a challenge at all? Or did the chapter titles flow easily throughout the process? Did you name each chapter prior to writing it, or did some of the chapter titles come later?

Chapter titles I tend to play around more freely with, changing them as I go, and seeing what jumps out at me. Since I tend to use shorter chapters that are focused on a single idea or moment, the chapter titles will often pop out to me midway through writing the chapter.

 

3. It’s interesting to hear how writers tackle a long work of fiction. Before you started Pale Highway, did you have a detailed outline of each chapter? Or–did you have a more general outline, with major plot points and perhaps an ending in mind? Or did you have essentially very little idea where the story would take you, and just decided to enter into the project without any concrete or firmly predetermined plans?

I’m the sort of person who always has to-do-lists, reminders, alarms and all of that stuff, so I’m definitely a detailed outliner. I outline a long time before I even start writing, usually on a chapter by chapter basis. Once I start writing, I do give my characters and story room to break free from the outline and do what they want—which they often do—but having a basic road map helps me stay focused, and keep the narrative tight.

 

4. Sort of a follow-up to the previous question, but, during the writing process, were there things that occurred that greatly surprised you? For example, did a character say something or do something, almost out of his or her own volition, that you just didn’t see coming? Was there ever a twist in the plot that just “happened,” on its own as it were, and afterward, you thought to yourself, Where did that come from? In short, how many surprises did you experience during the writing of Pale Highway?

Oh yeah, those surprises are one of the best parts of writing! The plot itself stayed pretty on track all the way through, but Gabriel himself often surprised me with his cunning insights, his occasional sardonic cracks, and the decisions he made. Victor, the rather strange fellow resident who Gabriel befriends, surprised me many times as well.

 

5. The novel is wonderfully written and beautifully layered. It flows so well. How long did it take to write, from beginning (first-draft stage) to end (ready for publication)?

Thank you, it’s amazing to hear that. After putting so much work into it for such a long time, that sort of comment makes my day!

I started coming up with the story ideas that would lead to Pale Highway back in 2012, even before The Cage Legacy came out. These concepts went through a lot of transformation after that point, but as a whole, Pale Highway was something that I worked on for the better part of three years. I’ve been anticipating its entry into the world for a long, long time.

 

6. The novel explores scientific and medical ideas–they are integral to the story. How did you balance the need to provide sufficient scientific details but at the same time not inundate the reader with too much information? It would seem this is like walking a tightrope. You need enough to make the material resonate but not so much that readers’ eyes glaze over. Pale Highway accomplishes a perfect balance. Was this something you consciously “game-planned” for before writing the first draft?

You said it perfectly, about how it’s like walking a tightrope. In order to explain the scientific ideas that impact the story—and on a character level, to demonstrate what kind of person Gabriel Schist was before Alzheimer’s, as his ideas were the most defining aspect of his persona—it required that I put in just enough information about his theories to explain what they were, while also not doing a massive info dump that takes the reader out of the story. I hope that I struck a good balance.

 

7. The novel, through the point of view of its protagonist, Gabriel Schist, explores several fascinating theories about the immune system. Prior to writing Pale Highway, did you need to perform a lot of research on the immune system? Or was it a subject you already had studied and pursued previously?

The Alzheimer’s aspect of the novel was one that I had already researched with my own experience, working in the Alzheimer’s unit of a nursing home. Gabriel’s theories about the immune system, however, I needed to do an insane amount of new research about in order to understand. I can’t even begin to tell you how many books, essays and articles I read on the subject.

I saw it like this: if Gabriel was the kind of man who was defined by the world as a “mad genius,” then it was important that I had a good understanding of what his work was about. I also figured that in this sort of alternative reality that Gabriel lives in—a world in which he found an AIDS cure back in the 1990s—Gabriel’s theories were going to have to be unconventional, strange, something that isn’t usually explored by the establishment. Once I started reading about the work of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela, something clicked, and I knew where to focus my studies on.

 

8. There are several flashback chapters expertly placed throughout the story that show different sides of Gabriel, and at different periods of his life. I found it interesting (and highly effective) that most of these flashback chapters were presented in points of view that were not Gabriel’s. The chapters, therefore, not only allow us to see Gabriel at various points in his life, but they also allow us to see him through the eyes of others, rounding out our perception of him. When did you make the decision to write these flashback chapters in different points of view? Was that something you knew you wanted to do right from the start? Or did that come about later in the process?

You got it. I knew early on that for the main story line—Gabriel being an Alzheimer’s patient in a nursing home—I wanted to keep it in Gabriel’s POV, to show that world through his eyes, to show what a nursing home looks like when one is a resident suffering from a neurodegenerative disease. But on the same token, I also knew that I wanted to tell the flashbacks from the perspective of others as much as possible, so that we could get to know Gabriel as a young man in the same way that others would encounter him—brilliant, quiet, introverted—while also having that slice into his older mind, so we’re able to understand him, form a full mental picture, and hopefully relate to a character somewhat outside the norm.

 

9. Pale Highway is a multi-layered novel, tying together medical themes, the plight and care of the elderly, not to mention various metaphysical and even theological ideas. It is also an in-depth character study. How did such a layered idea come to you? The novel is a mosaic of so many themes. Was this an idea that came to you all at once, or did it evolve, piece by piece, over a period of years?

I knew back in 2011 that I wanted to write a book about Alzheimer’s, and with that in mind, I started piecing together what kind of book I wanted to write. Once I knew who Gabriel Schist was, I knew that the central narrative had to be centered on his final attempt at redemption, a quest to do one more meaningful thing in his life. With him being an immunologist, this meant that the clear thing to do was have him try to cure a bizarre new disease, and so the book became science fiction.

The idea of writing this book as a literary novel, or even just a sci-fi novel, seemed limiting to me. It would have prevented me from delving into the more metaphysical aspects of what I wanted to express. Because while Pale Highway is about Alzheimer’s at its core, it’s also about death, life, and what it means to be a human being. Finally writing my way to the third act of this novel, and delving into these issues, was one of the most cathartic experiences of my life.

 

10. What did you find to be the most challenging aspect of writing Pale Highway?

The research was the hardest part to start with, but by the time I started writing I had a good handle on that. Writing about the traumatic experiences that Gabriel goes though, as more and more pieces of his brain fall away, was painful. By the time that Gabriel’s Alzheimer’s symptoms begins to worsen, I’d developed such a connection to him that it felt much like watching a friend with Alzheimer’s, and knowing that I couldn’t do anything to help him.

 

11. What did you find to be the easiest aspect?

Writing about the nursing home itself, with all of its flaws, problems, humorous moments, and overall this pervading sense of bittersweet tragedy. In all honesty, I could’ve written at least 30 books about Bright New Day, the residents there, how it all works. I never see nursing homes properly represented in the media, so it was great to put that out there.

 

12. Who are some of your favorite authors and literary inspirations?

So many. I always say Stephen King first, primarily because reading his Dark Tower books as a teenager was one of my most inspirational experiences, and I don’t think there’s ever been another book series I’ve been so enveloped in. I also love Richard Matheson, Kurt Vonnegut, Cormac McCarthy, and Philip K. Dick.

 

13. If you could offer just one single piece of advice to an aspiring author, what would it be?

It’s all about perseverance. Inspiration is the electrical charge that powers your work, but perseverance is the cord that connects it to the wall.

 

14. What are your future writing plans? Are you currently working on a new project?

I have multiple works in progress, all in various different states of development. Part of my writing process, after finishing a first draft, is to put it aside for at least a month and then come back to it with fresh eyes, so I’ll often write another first draft between these two drafts. There’s one novel in particular that’s rising to the top right now, so I’m pretty sure that’s going to be my next book.

 

15. Where can readers find and download your work?

You can find me on www.NicholasConley.com, and my blog is linked to from there. You can also follow me on Twitter at @NicholasConley1. Always happy to meet new readers! I wish I could send complementary coffee cups over the net, but unfortunately technology has not yet advanced to that level. Someday, maybe…

************

Nicholas Conley’s passion for storytelling began at an early age, prompted by a love of science fiction novels, comic books and horror movies. When not busy writing, Nicholas spends his time reading, traveling to new places, and indulging in a lifelong coffee habit. In order to better establish himself on the planet Earth, Nicholas has currently made his home in New Hampshire.

nc

To learn more about him, take a stroll over to www.NicholasConley.com.

 

Thank you, Nicholas, for a great interview, and thanks so much to everyone for reading!

–Mike

 

What You Need (Or, Hopefully, Want!) to Read–a Cross-Genre, Multi-Author Promotion

In the first-season Twilight Zone episode titled “What You Need,” which aired on Christmas Day 1959, an old peddler named Pedott walks into a drinking establishment, carrying with him his sack of wares.

tzonebeginning

 

He approaches a young woman, seated alone at a table, and asks her, “Something for you, miss?”

womanhandingoverbill

 

She hands over a bill, asking for some matches, but the old man stares at her, looks into her eyes, and exclaims, “You don’t need matches, miss.  I’ll tell you what you need.”  And he hands her a small bottle of cleaning fluid, “guaranteed to remove spots of any and all kinds.”

“It’s what you need,” he assures her, and she takes it, no doubt baffled by the display.

womanbaffled

 

Pedott approaches the bar, where a man referred to as “Lefty” is drinking liberally.

“Whaddaya got, pop?” Lefty asks between drinks.

“Many things,” the old peddler answers.  “Many odds and ends.  Things you need.”

pedottandlefty

 

Lefty tells him there’s no chance he has what he needs in his bag full of merchandise–a new left arm.

The bartender breaks in, explaining that Lefty used to be “quite a pitcher in his time.”  He even pitched a couple of years for the Chicago Cubs.  But then “his arm went sour.”  Now Lefty comes into the bar each night, “looking for a baseball career at the bottom of a bottle.”

Pedott tells Lefty there are other opportunities, new career paths he can pursue.  Pitching isn’t the only way he can earn a living.  Lefty scoffs at this, his demeanor downcast, bereft of hope.

leftylaments

 

Suddenly the old man has a brainstorm.  “I think I know what it is you need,” he says, reaching into his bag and fishing out a bus ticket to Scranton, Pennsylvania.

Lefty laughs.  “Now, what’s in Scranton, Pennsylvania, old man?”

But then the phone rings.  It’s for Lefty–a job offer from one of Lefty’s old managers to coach for a minor league baseball team in Scranton.  He tells Lefty to take a bus to Scranton and meet the GM to interview for the job.

Lefty of course wants to know how Pedott knew he’d get a call from Scranton, but the old man has quietly departed the scene, exiting the bar.  Oh well.  Lefty isn’t about to stress over the details.  He finally has an opportunity.  He just wishes he had nicer clothes.

“I sure wish I could get this out,” he gripes, pointing at a stain on his jacket.  “I’d like to look halfway decent when I meet the GM.”

The woman with the just-procured cleaning fluid walks up to him, shyly saying she couldn’t help but overhear, and that she has just the thing.

She tries it on the spot, applying the fluid to Lefty’s jacket stain.  “When this dries, you won’t even know you had a spot there,” she says.

womantakingoutthespot

 

As she applies the cleaning fluid, their eyes meet.  There is an unmistakable attraction.

The old peddler certainly knew what each of them needed . . .

*********************

I am especially fortunate to be a part of a multi-author, cross-genre promotion that, just maybe, can give old Pedott a run for his money.  The talented wordsmiths taking part in this promo offer a wide assortment of stories and styles–there is something here for everyone.

promobanner

 

The details of the promo are straightforward.  Each of the authors involved will run their own special promo on their books, beginning today and ending on November 22.  What titles are they featuring in the promo and what, exactly, does their promo entail?  Where can you find and download their books?  I invite you to click on each of the links below to discover the answers.

I hope you enjoy this eclectic literary smorgasbord!

Barbara Monier –Contemporary Literary Fiction

John Howell — Fiction Thriller

Shehanne Moore — Historical Romance

Janice Spina –Middle-Grade Junior Detectives Series

Luciana Cavallaro –Historical Fiction–Mythology Retold

Evelyne Holingue –Middle-Grade Fiction

Jo Robinson –Nonfiction Publishing Guide for Newbies, Short Stories, and Mainstream Fiction

Sonya Solomonovich –Time-Travel Fantasy

Jennifer Chow –Adult Cozy Mystery (The beginning of a new series)

Nicki Chen –Historical Fiction–WWII China

Katie Cross –YA Fantasy

**************

As for The Eye-Dancers, as part of this joint promotion that includes authors from around the globe, I am discounting the e-book version to 99 cents, straight through to November 22.  You can find it at the following online retail locations . . .

eyedancers

 

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-ebook/dp/B00A8TUS8M

B & N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-eye-dancers-michael-s-fedison/1113839272?ean=2940015770261

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255348

Kobo:  https://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/ebook/the-eye-dancers

**************

I thank each and every author involved for joining together and taking part in this cross-genre event.  It is an honor to be a part of this with you.

thankyou

 

And I thank everyone for reading!

–Mike

A Trip Back Home, a Paperback, and a Promotion

I can still remember the first time.

I was seven years old.  I don’t remember the shop, or even what kind of shop it was–a bookstore, perhaps?  A drugstore?  An eclectic little gem with knickknacks and mementos gracing dusty, wooden shelves? I don’t know.   That detail has escaped, leaking through the holes of conscious memory, a magic trick of the mind.  But the rack, the spinning rack–I remember that.

countrystore

 

The rack was taller than I was, filled with issue after issue of comic books.  The covers promised grand adventures, larger-than-life stories, journeys through space and time.  I spun the rack, mesmerized by the squeaking sound it emitted, the covers whirring past in a blur.

comicrack

 

When the rack finally stopped spinning, I looked at the comic book directly in front of me.  The Fantastic Four, number 209.  I’d heard of Marvel’s first superhero team, of course, but I was also aware that my older brother, who collected comics, thought they were overrated.  He was  Spider-Man fan.  But the scene depicted on the cover carried my seven-year-old mind far away, up high, soaring with the stars and comets and planets from galaxies so remote I couldn’t even fathom the distance.

ff209

 

I knew I had to have that issue.

The rest, as they say, is history.  That single issue of The Fantastic Four began a lifelong love of science fiction, comic books, and, really, stories of all sizes, shapes, and genres.  I wrote my first short story that fall.  I began to read more and more for the sheer fun of it, not simply because it was assigned for school.  A handful of years later, I was introduced to the world of Ray Bradbury, as I lost myself in stories of carnival rides and astronauts, time travelers and Martians.  High school dawned, and I read Shakespeare, Bronte, Dickens, and Steinbeck.  When college arrived, it didn’t take long for me to declare a major–English.

bradbury

 

My life has always revolved around books.  The feel of them, the texture of the pages as you turn them.  The musty, magical smell of a comic book from 1952, an artifact, a relic from a bygone era.  Boys with cameras or baseball gloves smile at me from advertisements sixty years old, spanning the chasm of decades, infusing me with a sense of nostalgia for a time period I never even experienced or saw.

oldcomicad

 

The physical presence of books–the weight and heft of the volume–these elements add to the experience.  Reading a book, an actual, physical book, is different from reading its equivalent online or on a Kindle or smartphone.  Not necessarily better, just different.  More complete, perhaps, engaging more of the senses, providing for a more intimate and personal experience.  “There is no friend as loyal as a book,” Hemingway once said, a sentiment I have often shared over the years.

hemingwayquote

 

And so it is with great excitement that I can announce–The Eye-Dancers, published as an ebook late in 2012–is now also available as a paperback.  It seems fitting that the publication of The Eye-Dancers in hard-copy form should happen now.  This weekend, I head back home to Rochester, NY, visiting the old house where I grew up; the house where I learned to love books, not just for the stories, but for the characteristics themselves–the binding of the spine, the wrinkles and imperfections, the crisp, fresh smell of  new editions, or the heady aroma of decades-old volumes, the yellowing pages succumbing to the oxidation and literary alchemy of time.

oldbooks

 

I’ll bring a physical copy of The Eye-Dancers with me to Rochester, I’m sure.  And perhaps, at some point, some quiet, still moment, I’ll wander into my old bedroom, open the book, and remember . . .

childhoodmemories

 

******************

The Eye-Dancers, the paperback, is available for purchase . . .

at Amazon, http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-Michael-S-Fedison/dp/0692262784/ref=tmm_pap_title_0/190-9007348-1553839

and at CreateSpace, https://www.createspace.com/4920627

eyedancers

 

 

Additionally, The Eye-Dancers, the ebook, is now on sale for just 99 cents, through the end of September, at the following online retail locations:

Amazon:  http://www.amazon.com/The-Eye-Dancers-ebook/dp/B00A8TUS8M

B & N:  http://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-eye-dancers-michael-s-fedison/1113839272?ean=2940015770261

Smashwords:  http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/255348

and Kobo:  http://store.kobobooks.com/en-us/books/The-Eye-Dancers/nKFZETbWWkyzV2QkaJWOjg?MixID=nKFZETbWWkyzV2QkaJWOjg&PageNumber=1

Thank you to everyone for all the wonderful and ongoing support!

bouquet

 

And thanks so much for reading!

–Mike

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: