Dead Sight Unboxing & WOOL Gathering

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I got my shipment of paperback copies of Dead Sleep from CreateSpace today. I unboxing them, showing off the amazing cover and dedication to my daughter.
I also talk about some other amazing indie books out there, including John Hancock’s ROOF and Peter Cameron’s Feedback. Also talked about WOOL Gathering, featuring my story “The Sheriff’s Son.”

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Captain America, Bacon and other suggestions

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READER MAILBAG #2

I did this a while ago and thought I’d do it again this weekend. A smattering of my thoughts on a variety of subjects. Thanks to Forbes West, Jeff Carter, Debbie Robbins, Thomas Robins (no relation), Jen George, Travis Mohrman, and my brother for the ideas.


With the impending release of Captain America 2: ‘Merica, I wish to share a story with you. This story will go to show the vast differences between my wife and me (besides the obvious).

So this year for Halloween, my 9-year-old daughter went as Hermione from Harry Potter (she was adorable). While we were out trick-or-treating, we came across more than a few of my wife’s elementary school students. One in particular caught her eye and she exclaimed, “What are you, Captain America?”

Image<——–The boys costume looked more like this.

Yep. That’s Thor. A few weeks later, I was shopping at our local Wally World and came upon this cup and bought a “Captain America” cup for my bride.

She will never live this down.

And on that note, I am pretty psyched about the newest movie in the Marvel universe. In fact, my wife was bemoaning the fact there was a lack of black superheroes just yesterday and I was able to tell her that Falcon, (in fact, the first black superhero) is in the movie. It’ll be nice to have Falcon and hopefully other black superheroes for when I finally bring my son home from Africa.


On a separate note — Bacon.

Consider this: You have been gifted a magnificent ability. You realize one afternoon that your touch can turn the simplest of items into bacon.

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Bacon Candles. (Note — NOT real bacon)

Bread = bacon. Potato chips = bacon. Green beans = bacon. Mushrooms = bacon. Bacon = bacon.

Of course, like any gift, this ability has drawbacks. Your clothes instantly become a slab of pork belly. Grease covers you from head to toe. You attempt to shower, only to find the water becomes little pellets of bacon bits that sprinkle you from above. I know, I know. It sounds delicious and amazing, but you can no longer leave the house. In fact, your house is slowly becoming a giant slab of bacon. (Thankfully, the north-facing side is Canadian bacon — that is, ham.)

Then, you go to bed…bacon wrapped blankets and all, and in the morning you wake to the crackle and smell of smoke. Your house is on fire…check that…it is crisping. Your neighbors have been driven to insanity watching and smelling your house for the past day and will stop at nothing to get at the salty pork fat.

As you lie in your bed, you munch on your cellphone and wait to perish with the rest of your glorious bacon. You realize no one should have this much power. With great power comes great responsibility and you can’t let this ability fall into the wrong hands.

mmmmm….bacon….


I’m just going to leave this bit of knowledge right here:

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Yesterday my wife and I sold our Pontiac Grand Am. We’d had the car for over a decade and it had been a good car. I used it extensively for driving to and from sporting events while working as a sports reporter and it survived a trip to North and South Dakota about six years ago.

It was a bit unexpected so we hadn’t cleaned it out yet. We found a lot of gross things (a pair of pliers covered in the remnants of exploded ketchup packets from the glovebox and a bottle of oil which had leaked in the back seat among others), some odd items (a racketball racket, multiple pens and pencils — the newspaper job, remember) and some nice memories. I found a custom-made Veggie Tales CD with Molly’s name inserted into various songs we used to play on trips. I found a dead watch my wife gave me for an anniversary gift. I sold the car that we brought our daughter home from the hospital in.

We did some cleaning and sold the vehicle. It was a bittersweet day for sure.


I also had a request today to talk about Southern Illinois defecting from the rest of the state and being annexed into Missouri. I must say, that is a fine idea. The corruption and waste of Illinois is well-known, but most people don’t realize the corruption is mostly limited to a fairly small area — Chicago.

Now, I don’t have anything against Chicago, but there is no way for Southern Illinois to be able to swing votes in the General Assembly because they simply lack the votes. I think Illinois could be a great state if everyone could just get along, but even when the House, Senate, and Governor are all Democrats, they can’t get anything accomplished. What a shame.

I’m all for joining Missouri or Indiana. Bring it on.


On a final note, here is a trippy picture of a cat.

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Trade-offs and Opportunity Cost

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And so I’m sitting here after Economics class thinking about what I could possibly blog about when it keeps coming back to me — Trade-offs and Opportunity Cost.

According to the textbook, Trade-offs can be described as “sacrificing one good or service to purchase or produce another.” That is closely associated with its cousin, Opportunity Cost, which can be defined as “the value of the next best alternative given up for the alternative that was chosen.”

Now, when we talk in Economics, we’re usually talking about money, but not always. For example, we might say that you are in a store. You have $3 and can purchase a Snickers and a can of Mountain Dew, or you can buy a 20 ounce bottle of water and a pack of gum. You could also save the money and not get a snack. 

There you can see many trade-offs and the options listed are simple and not even indicative of the options you would even find at a regular Wal-Mart or Target. But, essentially that’s what a trade-off is — looking at what the options are and picking one. The one option (or multiple options) would be the trade-offs. You pick the Snickers and the Mt. Dew, you are trading that for a possibly healthier choice of water and gum. Or trading for the chance to save your money to buy something bigger and better in the future. 

And that’s where Opportunity Cost comes in. 

What is the value of that trade-off? There is some kind of value, monetarily or just perceived, to the choice you made. 

Let’s forget the shopping trip for a second and look at you after work. 

You come home, take off your shoes, put on a pair of comfy pants, sit in your favorite recliner and…. what?? What do you choose to do? Do you:

  • Read a book?
  • Watch The Real Housewives of Atlanta?
  • Learn a foreign language?
  • Watch Cosmos?
  • Pick up the iPad for a rousing game of Candy Crush?
  • Make a craft?
  • Write a book?
  • Spend all night on Facebook and Twitter?
  • Write a blog?
  • Call a family member?
  • Leave the house entirely for a walk or hit the gym?

Again, there is no way I could possibly list all the potential alternatives you find yourself with each and every day. We all have our jobs and there are little options in that area. We go to work, slave away for the man, and earn a paycheck. 

But…it’s the moments we have to ourselves that define us. They make us who we are. 

If we just sit around all night watching the tube, what does that say about us? 

If we play game after game of some mindless app on our phones or tablets, what kind of person are we?

But…if we choose to expand ourselves, to reach beyond what we are comfortable with and what we believe we can do, we can literally change who we are. What is the opportunity cost if we watch hour after hour of the Food Network and never once even attempt the recipes we see? What are we missing out on? 

To be honest, I’ve gotten busy with school lately, so my writing has taken a bit of a backseat until summer hits. I’ve written a little, but I gotta pay the bills right now. My evenings right now are spent recuperating from school, so mindless distractions are not always a bad thing and I won’t say they ever are. However, at some point we get stuck in that rut. We don’t get up and we let the distractions become our entire lives. 

Look at the trade-offs in your life and what the opportunity costs are? What can you do to make your life fuller? What are you missing out on by not looking at the alternatives all around? 

 

Confessions of a LOST junkie

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Back in 2004, a TV debuted that changed my life. It changed the way I watched TV and transformed me from a casual viewer to a full-on nerd when it came to LOST. When that show was on, there were no distractions. It had my complete attention from the first flashback (or flashforward) to the preview for the next week’s show. 

I remember seeing TV previews over the summer about the show and it looked fascinating. (In a moment of complete honesty, I didn’t even see the pilot episode until the beginnings of the final season. I missed it and never had a chance to see it until later. That may affect my confession as a LOST junkie, but I think it strengthens my argument. I was so into the show, I didn’t need to see the first episode to watch every week.)

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I own this. Another full confession — I actually bought it as a gift for my wife. I now give better gifts or don’t give any at all.

We still owned a VCR at the time LOST first started on ABC. It wasn’t always a problem, but after a little while, I started a Master’s Program that met on Wednesday nights. 

That was a problem. 

Thankfully, my wife, and then our friend Mischelle (who both unwittingly began liking a science-fiction serialized TV show) waited for me most nights. I’d get home and we’d immediately rewind the tape and watch the adventures of Jack, Kate, Sawyer, Locke, Hurley, Charlie, Sayid, etc. The mysteries kept us watching every week. Even when they “uncovered” one mystery, we got about 50 more. Brilliant. 

Like the Hatch. 

Holy smokes that was amazing. We get this whole storyline with Locke unearthing this mysterious Hatch only to find out that someone was already inside!

And thus began my man-crush on Desmond. 

The introduction of Desmond’s character totally changed EVERYTHING I THOUGHT I BELIEVED about the island and its inhabitants. What I thought, though, was not even close to the truth of the situation. It was greater still. 

Just some of the crazy things that happened on the Island: 

Polar bears

Ben Linus

Juliet and Sawyer

Sawyer and Kate

Jack and Kate (oh the love triangles!!)

Fish biscuits

WAAAAALLLLLLTTTTTT!!!

A shark with a Darma logo on it’s fin?

NOT PENNY’S BOAT (That one scene wrecked me. Like the first 10 minutes of Up. Oy.)

“We have to go back, Kate!”

Jack’s off-island beard

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I also own this shirt. I love it.

Smoke Monster

Hurley’s trip in the Darma van (probably made me smile bigger than anything on that show)

The hidden philosophical statements around every corner

The Black Rock

A plane full of Virgin Mary statues with heroin

“You’ve got some Arzt on you.”

The entire last season (crazy!)

Sayid in the submarine

The sonic fence around the island

Jacob’s cabin (spooky!)

And on…and on…and on…

LOST was perhaps the first show that I actively searched out clues on the Internet for what was going on. What was happening on that island? Why did the plane crash? Why them? Why those people? So many questions that we didn’t see answers to until the final season. 

As for that final reveal in the last episode — I was okay with it. I thought the entire season was a nice send-off. A lot of people didn’t get it, but by the time they were cruising into that finale, the show had picked up a lot of casual viewers and people who didn’t get it. I’m good with creators having their own vision and seeing it through. I don’t buy that they saw the ending on the first day of the show (see Nikki and Paulo), but they committed and went with it. 

I was such a LOST junkie, that I even entered a Haiku contest through Entertainment Weekly when the series came out on Blu-ray. I knew everyone and their brothers were going to be writing poems about Jack and Charlie and Kate and Locke, so I went a little more…obscure. Behold: 

ImageMine was the final one in the EW.com LOST Haiku slideshow, but it was still a winner.

(Frogurt, if you don’t remember was a survivor of the plane crash, but died when the island was jumping through time due to a flaming arrow to the chest. He was kind of a whiner, so I don’t think there were a ton of tears shed when he bit the dust.)

I enjoyed the LOST complete set, but did eventually sell it to bulk up my adoption fund. Since I can catch it on Amazon Prime, I don’t worry about it too much. 

I was so into LOST that when the show ended, I started watching ALL the shows the LOST alums started appearing in. 

Why yes, I’ll watch Hawaii 5-0 because Daniel Dae-Kim is in it. 

Of course I’ll watch Jorge Garcia in the FOX sci-fi drama Alcatraz. (It was FOX. I should have known it wouldn’t last long)

Why wouldn’t I watch Michael Emerson in CBS’ show Person of Interest? 

Eventually, the shows lost interest for me. H5-0 became dull after a year and a half. Alcatraz was a tough sell to most people and Person of Interest was good, but I just couldn’t commit to the show every week. 

Ultimately, they weren’t LOST. They were good television shows, but they weren’t culturally-defining TV. They didn’t challenge my way of thinking on a weekly basis. They didn’t make me wonder “Why would there be a polar bear on a tropical island?”

LOST was unique and cool. I doubt we’ll ever have another TV show that entices us like that. I miss it and remember my time with it fondly.

WOOL GATHERING Out Now

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WOOL GATHERING Out Now

WOOL Gathering is now available for Kindle. For less than $3 (that will go towards charity), you get nine fantastic silo stories from around the world. Hugh Howey wrote an introduction and story after story takes you inside the twists and turns of the silo. From the beginnings before SHIFT to the cleanings detailed in WOOL and even hints at the events of DUST, this collection has something for everyone. My original short story, “The Sheriff’s Son,” is included in this anthology. Click on the cover and you can get a copy for yourself.

A Poem — About a Pot

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So today was the day I had the chance to read some poetry to my World History classes. I secretly love it — the chance to expose them to new and different words and ideas, the feelings and imagination of the writer, the silence in the classroom as I finish and the shock on their faces when they find out what the poem was about.

We talked about Romanticism — the intellectual movement of the mid-1800’s. With Wordsworth, Blake, Coleridge, and Keats. Beautiful, vibrant words.

But here’s what I do:

I read a portion of a poem and ask them to think about what the poet is writing about. For today, I chose Ode on a Grecian Urn by John Keats. Here’s a portion:

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Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d,
Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal—yet, do not grieve;
She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
Forever wilt thou love, and she be fair!

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
Forever piping songs forever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
Forever warm and still to be enjoy’d,
Forever panting and forever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
That leaves a heart high sorrowful and cloy’d,
A burning forehead and a parching tongue.

Those are but two of the five stanzas in the poem. After I read, I asked my students, “What do you think he was writing about?”

Life

Love

Marriage

Music

Trees

Cows (there is a reference to a heifer in another stanza)

Boy were they shocked when I put up a picture and told them it was a poem about a pot. A fancy pot, but a pot.

That’s right — the lyrical prose that Keats used in his poem was to describe what he saw when he viewed a pot. But, when we started really breaking down the words, the light bulbs going off above their heads illuminated the entire room.

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed / Your leaves, nor ever bid the Spring adieu — the trees on the urn are in bloom and full. They are continuously in a perfect state, but in that perfection, they are still. Frozen in time. They won’t ever experience the loss of leaves, but they also won’t see the rebirth of spring.

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard / Are sweeter; therefore, ye soft pipes, play on; / Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear’d, / Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone — The music we can play and hear is beautiful yes, but the sounds that the musicians on the urn play can be the most beautiful song in the world, yet we would never know it. The bard will continuously play his pipes, forever in silence, but forever in perfection.

We could go on and on with this wonderful poem — a poem about a pot. And that’s the entire beauty of it. That we can find striking details and stroke our imagination even in the simplest of objects. I compared it to them lying on a hill and looking at the clouds. We see puppies and whales; pianos and jet planes; a T-Rex and a hot dog. What will our imagination show us when we perceive the simplest of objects. What can we bring to life through just our words?

The Martian vs. Old Man and the Wasteland

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What does a person do when they are all alone with no one else to depend on? With the world and the universe conspiring to get them at every turn? When all hope is seemingly lost?

That’s the problem faced by the two protagonists of the last two novels I read.

Mark Watney of The Martian by Andy Weir and The Old Man of The Old Man and the Wasteland by Nick Cole.

Both are terrific reads and I look forward to re-reading both at some point in the future when I’ve forgotten how great they are.

But anyway, let’s get back to the topic at hand – a man struggling against nature, alone in an inhospitable world. Both books have this in spades, but the approach they take is decidedly different.

Let’s begin with The Martian.

ImageI’d been told for the last few months how great this book was. I guess I missed out on the Andy Weir as an Indie writer bandwagon, and that great bright orange cover seemed to be taunting me whenever I paid a visit to Amazon to browse. Finally I decided the $9.99 price point wasn’t too big of an obstacle and pulled the trigger.

I started reading the book on a Friday afternoon and was finished the next evening. With my schedule these days, that is a ridiculous timetable, but it was truly one of those books that as soon as I started reading, I had a difficult time putting down. Andy Weir tells an excellent story here; the closest reading experience I had to this was Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

(and to tell you how much I loved that book, I can tell you there is a time period each year that I set aside just to read and lavish in RPO…)

The Martian is a near-future story about a man who gets stranded on Mars and is forced to survive “off the land” so to speak. With a planet trying to kill him at every turn, the character of Mark Watney could have turned out to be a bitter and jaded man. Alone on an alien planet with death around each corner. I don’t know how I would have survived, but thankfully Mark Watney was not me. Watney is an engineer and botanist. In spite of the surroundings, he makes it work for him with plenty of humor along the way. I can’t tell you the number of times I chuckled to myself or flat-out laughed out loud at Watney’s crazy stunt on the barren surface of Mars.

If this was written as a “true story,” I would have believed it. It is that good.

Throughout it all, there is a general Apollo 13 vibe. Bad things are happening and just when you think Watney’s in the clear – BAM! – Mars is out for blood. But, there is a lightness to the tone and a feeling that something good will come out of this story no matter what. The ending isn’t a guarantee by any stretch, but you find yourself rooting over the final few pages for him to make it.

Compare that to Old Man and the Wasteland.

ImageObviously there is a tonal shift between the two. While Weir takes a serious yet lighthearted tone, Cole evokes Hemingway mixed with Cormac McCarthy. Bleak and desperate.

It’s been 40 years after the bombs struck the cities of America. One by one they fell until all that was left was desolate and feral. The Old Man (we don’t get a name) goes on a journey of survival and (to him) necessity from Yuma to Tucson in Arizona. Before he even encounters any of the remnants of civilization, the man has to overcome the stark landscape and the lack of water. When he bests his environment, turn after turn, the world is trying to defeat him. We see the world through his eyes and realize while he is old and grizzled, he is comparatively sane in the insanity all around him. The ones left behind after the bombs have mostly become unrecognizable as humans and are therefore aspects of a lethal environment trying to do him in at every chance.

Nick Cole does a masterful job painting a post-apocalyptic picture using a lens borrowed from Hemingway while adding in his own 21st century elements. I enjoyed this book immensely and the ending is poignant and will pull at your heart.

Both of these books are fascinating looks at what a man will do to survive in a deadly environment – one on a planet 35 million miles from Earth, the other on an unfamiliar wasteland in a poisoned future. While Watney has his situation thrust upon him suddenly, the Old Man takes his journey 40 years after the bombs. Both are a terrific view of Man V. Nature and what will come of it and that’s the beauty of these books.

Both The Martian and Old Man and the Wasteland are 5-star reads. Both are vastly different, but take us places unexpected and thrilling.

Both times I started reading these two books, I mentioned on Facebook I was reading them. Both times I had friends tell me they were “jealous of me reading them for the first time.” I understood completely. A few weeks ago, my brother read RPO for the first time and I felt the same way – wishing I could read it all again and the little discoveries and joys when my eyes read the words for the first time.

Buy these books. Read both of them. You will not be disappointed.