Thursday, December 25, 2008

Peace on Earth and Comfortable Socks

Okay, so one of the presents I received this year on Christmas morning was a pair of socks - actually, it was three pairs of socks - and I have to tell you, these socks are unbelievable.

Now, I know what you're thinking: Just how old do you have to be to get socks for Christmas and be all excited? What's next, a cane? A walker? Depends undergarments?

Believe me, I know just how ridiculous it sounds to be going on and on about socks, but still, these things are awesome. For one thing, they are suitable for work. Before the silly changes my employer mandated two years ago, all I ever used to wear to work were white athletic socks, since all I ever wore over them were jeans and sneakers.

Now, however, the geniuses in charge of my agency have decided that all air traffic controllers must dress "business casual," never mind the fact that we don't deal face-to-face with a single customer all day, and that we work inside a dark room surrounded by barbed wire fences and guarded by men with guns. "Business casual," whatever that means, is now the order of the day, and has been since September 2, 2006.

These socks I got for Christmas can be worn with my khakis, which are now all I ever wear to work, and they look great. Not only that, they feel great. I pulled them on for the first time and suddenly understood why all those Wall Street types lie, cheat and steal all day - So they can make enough money to buy socks like these!

Donald Trump probably wears nicer socks when he's just hanging around the house in his underwear watching football every Sunday, but for me, these things were like a little slice of heaven. Not only are they comfortable, they have little tiny holes all through them for ventilation. The holes are invisible to anyone admiring you in your new socks, but believe me, you can tell they're there. My feet stay nice and dry, even when I'm wearing shoes in the house, which, as most people know, is the kiss of death if you're stuck with feet that tend to sweat a lot, as mine do. (Sorry for being so graphic)

Unfortunately, I can't recommend them to you by brand-name, because I tore them out of the packaging and threw it away before I tried them out, and as far as I can tell, there is no logo on them or any sort of identification whatsoever, which I suppose must be another sign that they are really fancy socks.

All I can tell you is that they have a gold toe and are, in fact, called "Gold Toe" socks. Who manufactures them is anyone's guess, but if you happen to be walking around the mall and see socks called "Gold Toe" for sale, do yourself a favor and buy some immediately. You won't regret it if you're like me and you have to dress "Business Casual" for work. Whatever that means.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A Litany of Christmas Thanks

As someone whose natural tendency is to see the glass as half empty - unless, of course, it's completely empty - I really appreciate the Christmas season, with its invitation to look inward and think about what is really important in life. When I do that, I realize just how blessed I've been.

Without further ado (That makes me wonder, if you really aren't going to have any more ado, why bother saying, "Without further ado?" Why not just get on with it?) here are a few of the things I am most thankful for during the holiday season, 2008:

1) My wife, Sue.

You've heard of marrying up? Boy, did I marry up.

I'm not talking about in terms of money or social standing or any of the other stuff that lots of people use to define success. I'm talking about goodness and caring and big-heartedness - the stuff more of us should use to measure our standing in the world. If we did, it just might be a better place.

I'm amazed every day that this woman agreed to take me on. It's been over a quarter-century and I still can't figure out why she did, I'm just glad she hasn't changed her mind. She makes me a better person in every way.

2) My three children and my grandchild.

It's really easy to get caught up in the day-to-day parenting stuff and lose sight of what's important. My kids are healthy, vibrant young people with bright futures. They care about others, they work hard, and most importantly, they are intrinsically good. I know they will all live productive lives, and for that I am incredibly thankful.

My little granddaughter is almost two now and she is a blessing in every way. Smart, cheerful, healthy and happy, she fills our little house with toddler noises that haven't been heard here in a long, long time.

3) My job.

I work for the FAA as an air traffic controller, and while I can never forgive the current management structure for what they have done to the career I've devoted my entire adult life to - cutting pay, slashing retirement benefits, poisoning working conditions - I still consider myself fortunate to have a well-respected, high-paying job. Hell, in this economy, I'm glad I even have a job.

My career has enabled me to raise a family and begin sending my children to college. I own my own home and, more importantly, can still afford to make the payments on it. I am blessed.

4) My writing.

I love to write, and while I haven't exactly begun making Stephen King money, I am steadily making inroads, like getting more short stories published and working now on finishing my third novel.

It amazes me to think anyone would be interested in what I write, whether it be my sports blog at Foxsports, my blog at or at Myspace, or any of the magazines and anthologies who have published or will be publishing my work.

Thank you so much to:

-Crime and Suspense editor Tony Burton, who published my very first short story, "The Road to Olathe," and then included it in the Ten for Ten anthology. He also took on "Independence Day," one of my all-time favorite stories. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

-Trei Magazine's C.L. Freire. Unfortunately, the ezine is now defunct, but she published "Regrets, I've Had a Few," and has now moved on to bigger and better things.

-Shroud Publishing's Tim Deal. His anthology, Northern Haunts, will be released any minute now and includes my story, "Heart and Sole."

-FlashShot's Esther Schrader, who has accepted "Ned and Helen" for upcoming publication.

-Twisted Dreams Magazine and editor Andrea Dean Von Scoyoc, who has accepted "The Bridal Veil" for publication in the June, 2009 issue.

-Mysterical-E and Joe DeMarco for accepting "Uncle Brick and Jimmy Kills," my 9000 word story which will be featured this coming summer.

-Anyone who has read any of my stuff. I so much appreciate you spending your valuable time in the little worlds I try to construct that I can't even begin to express my appreciation. Thank you, and hopefully I'll be seeing more of you!

Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, and here's to a safe, happy and productive 2009!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

I Love Electricity

I've never been so happy to wake up before 5:00 a.m. as I was this morning. At 4:55 the lights blazed on in my bedroom, signaling the end of over one hundred hours without electricity. 101 hours and ten minutes to be exact, but, really, who's counting? Besides me, that is.

The power in my neighborhood had vanished like a David Copperfield elephant at 11:45 Thursday night, during the height of the ice storm that crippled the Northeast, plunging us into darkness and disappearing for more than four days. When the electricity finally came back, it did so with remarkably little fanfare considering how much it had been missed. One barely perceptible click and that was it - we had power again!

Some people in this area are still without light or heat and according to New Hampshire Governor David Lynch, could remain so until the end of next week, meaning, if true, a cold and dark Christmas for those still affected. An emergency shelter has been set up at our local high school and I'm told administrators will be holding a meeting tomorrow to decide whether to just forget about trying to get the students back to school until after the first of the year. You can probably guess where my kids stand on that issue.

Anyway, my thanks go out to all of the anonymous, hardworking individuals who have been, and continue to be, putting in long hours under difficult conditions, working day and night to get power restored, to clear debris from roadways and power lines, and in general to do all of the work that people tend to take for granted until they are affected by a situation of this magnitude.

Now, of course, forecasters are calling for an old-time Nor'Easter to strike the area on Friday, dropping six inches or more of snow. Normally that doesn't even qualify as a big storm, at least here where I live, but with so many people still unable to heat their homes it could make a difficult situation that much worse.

A week ago I would never have believed it if someone had told me we would be without power for well over four days. Now I'm just glad it's back. If you're so inclined, spare a prayer or just a good thought for the people who are still shivering or unable to return to their homes.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

A Real Ice Queen

You know that cliche that says we usually don't appreciate what we have until it's gone? I'm getting a painful reminder of the truth of that statement as the fifty-first hour without power in my home has now become a reality.

I drove home from work at ten o'clock Thursday night as the ice storm was just hitting its stride here in New Hampshire. Striding into the house confidently, I told my wife, "It's really not that bad out there. The roads aren't even slippery yet." That was roughly an hour and a half before the power crapped the bed. It hasn't returned since.

We awoke Friday morning to a world of beautiful devastation, as a thick layer of perfectly clear ice coated every outdoor surface, reflecting the light and making it look as though the scene had somehow been dipped in crystal. All night long I had lain in bed listening to tree limbs lose the battle against the steadily increasing weight of the ice, falling to the ground with one loud crack! after another.

A look out the kitchen window revealed a string of good-sized trees and branches down in the back yard, but it was a couple of hours before my wife took a step out the front door and froze in mid-stride as she took in the sight of a full-grown hardwood tree lying on the ground in our front yard, split right down the middle by the relentless ice, one side falling to the east and the other falling to the west.

We're luckier than many in this area, though, as we are fortunate to have a generator, allowing us to maintain power to the furnace, water pump, refrigerator, and a couple of other circuits for lights, etc. Temperatures in New Hampshire tonight are in the low teens, meaning any people without the ability to generate heat in their home have almost certainly been forced to evacuate, many congregating in the local high school gym.

Some roads remain closed due to fallen trees and/or power lines making them impassable; it's an eerie sight driving around after sunset and seeing whole neighborhoods completely enveloped by darkness.

Slowly but surely power is being restored, but it could still be several days to as much as a week before all customers are back on line, according to the power companies. I very much appreciate my good fortune - we purchased our generator less than two years ago and it has become just about the most valuable thing we own right now - but still, I am more than ready for this big adventure to be over.

Just to be clear, I promise never to take Ben Franklin, Thomas Edison, Michael Faraday, Georg Ohm, George Westinghouse, Nikola Tesla, or any of the other people who have done cool stuff with electricity for granted ever again. Scout's honor. Cross my heart and hope to die. Well I don't really hope to die, but you know what I mean.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Don't Read This If You've Already Showered

How many times have you sat and watched a movie where the antagonist was a power-mad megalomaniac, brazenly flouting the law while doing power-mad megalomaniacal things, and you said to yourself, "That could never happen"?

Power-mad megalomaniacs (I love saying that) are the meat and potatoes of thriller movies and have been for decades. The James Bond franchise has earned millions, maybe billions, of dollars over nearly a half-century by having the super-spy beat back threats from one power-mad megalomaniac after another, every two years without fail since the early 1960's.

The one thing you know about these bad guys as you're watching the movie is that they are caricatures - guys so cartoonishly awful that they could never happen in real life. Until now.

Until off the silver screen steps a bad guy so unbelievable that even movie-goers might have a hard time swallowing his antics. A sitting state governor who attempts to extort upwards of a million dollars from potential candidates for the vacated U.S. Senate seat of the man who has moved onward and upward to the presidency. A guy whose every sentence uttered, at least privately, seems to be peppered with the sorts of expletives that would make Richard Nixon blush.

A guy like Illionois Governor Rod Blagojevich. A guy so brazen in his corrupt machinations that he is facing almost certain jail time. A guy who promised change to the state he governs and has delivered, well, more of the same in what is widely believed to be the most corrupt state in the union.

I grew up in Massachusetts and it's hard for me to imagine a more corrupt state than that, so Blagojevich has apparently been working overtime or something. Although, to be fair, Massachusetts is still in the running for the hotly-contested title of Most Corrupt, as only recently State Senator Dianne Wilkerson reluctantly resigned after being videotaped stuffing thousands in bribe money under her shirt and into her bra. And if you think that might be a sensual sight, you've never seen Wilkerson.

Anyway, my point is this: As a novelist and short story writer who is trying to get my books published, I would never dare write a character like Rod Blagojevich for fear that no one would buy such a cookie-cutter bad guy; that nobody could suspend disbelief to the point where they wouldn't just mutter, "That could never happen," and slam my book closed, never to open its pages again.

It's hard enough trying to get published without competing with these loonies in real life. Politicians like Blagojevich and Wilkerson should have a little compassion for people like me if they're not going to be concerned with their constituents or their integrity. They make a hard job even tougher. Jerks.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Twisted Dreams in These Northern Haunts

As I work on the first rewrite of my third novel, it occurs to me that my timing on this writing gig has been pretty much identical to my timing on just about everything I do - bad. The economy is in the toilet and getting agents and publishers to take a chance on a new and unknown novelist - never an easy thing to do even in the best of times - becomes darned near impossible in this economic climate.

Of course, I have considered the possiblity that maybe my books just aren't good enough; that they don't pass muster. I've considered that possiblity and rejected it outright. If I don't have confidence in my abilities, who will? So, damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!

Anyway, even though I haven't had a whole lot of good news on the noveling front (Getting published, that is, the actual novel-writing is going along swimmingly), there have been a couple of encouraging developments in short-story land:

1) Northern Haunts, the horror anthology from Shroud Publishing, which just happens to contain a contribution from yours truly, will be taking the world by storm within the next couple of weeks. My entry, titled "Heart and Sole," takes its place alongside many other tales from established as well as up-and-coming authors, and I'm thrilled to have been included.

Many thanks to Shroud and editor Tim Deal. If James Brown was the hardest working man in show business, Tim Deal might just be the hardest working man in the small publishing business, considering all the projects he is juggling.

I can't wait to see the finished product - If you have the chance to pick up Northern Haunts, please check out "Heart and Sole," and if you are so inclined to let me know what you think of it, I wouldn't object either.

2) I learned this past week that my short story, "The Bridal Veil," has been accepted for publication in Twisted Dreams Magazine. I submitted the story for inclusion in the June, 2009 issue, since February 2009 was already filled, but editor Andrea Dean Van Scoyoc told me that she might possibly include it in February anyway, since she liked it so much.

In any event, "The Bridal Veil" tells the story of a nocturnal visit deep into a cemetery by a trio of people who may or may not all be looking for the same things. As with "Heart and Sole," I would be honored if you checked the story out when it's published. I know it won't be coming out for a while, but don't fret - I won't let you forget about it.

The moral of this story? Even though my natural state of affairs is to consider the glass half empty, there is some good news to celebrate. I continue writing and submitting my short stories while I work on my third novel and tirelessly peddle my first two to agents and publishers.
Well, maybe not tirelessly, but you get the point. If I'm not yet at the point where I can give up my day job and write full-time, at least I'm making progress, you know?