SYWTBAW V: The Cycle Continues

So, you’ve finished your first book, and it’s in some state of completion. Perhaps you’re like me and you finished the first book, got to a point where you can’t look at it any more, and left it as little more than a first draft, while you try to find a corner to hide in as you eat countless pounds of ice cream and chase that creamy goodness with a few bottles of whiskey.

Or maybe you’re one of those focused individuals who has gone through the process of actually editing and polishing that book and making the turd nice and shiny (we’ll get into this process a bit more later).

The reality of the situation is, in my experience with authors, that you’ve already got yourself set up for writing the second one. For all of the pain and torture writing the first book can be, it seems that people who take that initial scratch on the writer’s itch seem to have the same trouble that actual itches have: You simply can’t stop scratching it.

For me, I struggle with having all sorts of new ideas for stories while I’m in the midst of writing a story. It takes a whole heckuva lot of effort for me to keep from dropping the story I’m working on to work on a completely new story. Sometimes that effort doesn’t work, which is evident by the 13 different stories in different levels of completion sitting on my Dropbox as we speak. They’re all stories I hope to complete at some point, but ones that I inevitably put on hold as I began working on something else.

It makes sense to be more inspired while you’re actively creating. Your brain is already swimming in those creative juices, constantly thinking up new ideas, so, why wouldn’t it continue to work outside the constraints of the story you’re currently trying to tell.

What this means, however, is that no matter how much pain you’ve gone through to get that first story out, there’s a certain part of you ready to write the next one already. This oddly masochistic element of creation seems to proliferate among all artists. The concept of bleeding for your art isn’t a metaphor to take lightly. It can cause pain to create, and yet those who do, will continue to do it, even if they aren’t receiving any sort of material rewards for it. Heck, there are plenty who aren’t getting anything out of it, outside of personal satisfaction for completing something, and yet they continue.

For myself, my second book was a whirlwind. Where it took me over a year to write the first draft for Buddy Hero, I wrote the first draft to The Agora Files in exactly 30 days. I had learned a lot about how to get a story to the page while writing Buddy, that once it came to writing my second book, I didn’t spend nearly the time on trying to figure the basic stuff out.

This isn’t something to take as a guideline for second books. I’ve never written a first draft that fast since. Something about that second book was different, and it certainly boils down to feeling a particular inspiration for the story while, at the same time, being at a moment in my life where I could dedicate an extortionate amount of time on my writing. But there was also a certain drive to prove myself as being better than what I felt about myself after feeling the disappointment in what I originally released for The Legend of Buddy Hero. This is why the two books are so completely different. I noticed the issues in Buddy, and went a completely different way, focused more on action and emotion and energy than intricate attempts at development. I had created a giant back story for The Agora Files, like I did for The Legend of Buddy Hero, but almost none of it when into the book itself, deciding that the intrigue was better for that story, and allowing the action to drive things forward.

Regardless of the details, I flew through that second draft like it was nothing, avoiding all of the pain I dealt with on the first one.

Only to then be left with two books that needed some love.

Which meant that flying through that second book put me quickly back to where I had hated being just a month prior. Facing the fact that I had a book I needed to put some attention toward past the fun of just creating a story.

And…I literally didn’t know how to deal with it. I knew, based on my issues with The Legend of Buddy Hero, that I needed to step away from The Agora Files for a bit before getting into editing it. Let it mellow, so to speak. But I didn’t want to write yet another book, only to find myself with three first drafts and nothing I could truly be proud of yet.

Which left me with the decision to go back and attempt to fix all the problems I saw with Buddy Hero.

Which, is what we’ll get into more next time.

SYWTBAW IV: Patience Padawan

One of the most amazing moments I’ve ever had in my entire time as an author is the moment I finished my first first draft. When I put those final words to the page for The Legend of Buddy Hero, I quite literally couldn’t contain myself. I had done it. I had written the great American novel. I had succeeded in this thing I had spent so many months thinking was absolutely impossible. And I was pretty happy with how the story had wrapped up. And I was excited for people to start reading it. And I was ready to make all that book money and begin my new career as a writer, and never have to go back to my day job ever again.

So…yeah, I was obviously a little overly excited, and a whole lot of overly naive.

To my credit, I did do an immediate read-thru/edit of the book after I finished the first draft, but, well, I wasn’t that focused. In my mind, after finishing that first draft, I simply needed to fix up the grammar and look for any typos, and anything else that might be glaring. Surely when I get and agent/publisher, they would do all the work in helping me identify where the story was lacking.

It was less than a month after I finished that first draft that I started looking for agents. Because I had spent so much time working through that first draft thinking about how excited I was to make money as an author, I didn’t really ever think about what I needed to do to make money as an author.

And one of the biggest mistakes you can make as an author is to think that your first draft is good enough. We talked about this yesterday. For all of his bigotry and racism, Hemingway was right on one thing, first drafts are shit.

A part of me knew it then, but was unwilling to listen. I remember going through the first read thru of my first draft and cringing at certain details, but just thinking that it would be good enough. In my own defense, I had certainly read worse books which had somehow managed to be published, but, this was not a good book.

However, because of my lack of patience, and my lack of thinking about how I wanted to present myself to the literary world, I started looking for agents with what was basically a first draft. And, I actually received some positive responses. No one actually wanted to take me on as a client, but, well, amidst all of the rejections, there were a couple of people who actually had some interest in what I had written.

But they all ultimately rejected me.

And I took those few pieces of random praise, and decided that meant I should self-publish. And I did. I crapped together a cover and put my stuff up on CreateSpace (a self-publishing platform for print books that has now been swallowed up by the Amazon whale), and almost 11 years ago today, I received my first proof of my book, which I looked at, made some incredibly minor changes to, and then had a dozen copies printed for myself while also releasing the book for sale.

I had a couple of sales, mostly to family and friends (if not all), but nothing too spectacular. The cover was ugly, and I didn’t really spend much time on coming up with a blurb to use to sell the thing, and this book was ultimately just crapped out and put on the market without any real forethought.

And then, the following Thanksgiving, a few months after putting the book out, I gave out a few copies to some family members at the family Thanksgiving meal. And then I heard one of the family members reading a section of the book out loud.

And I was immediately mortified.

This was definitely one of the sections I had thought wasn’t the greatest during my read-thru edit. It was something I knew was a trouble spot. But I put the book out like that. And, I’ll be honest…while it was definitely the stupidest thing I’ve done in my career as an author, it was also the moment that I learned the most about myself as an author. It has stuck with me. It has caused me to be far more critical of my own writing and not want to simply rush something out.

And, it taught me an important point that I already knew, but at that moment in my life didn’t want to realize: There are no quick successes in writing.

I mean, sure, I’m guessing I could have used some shady tactics to get my book up into the top ranks and made all sorts of money off of something that was terrible. There are plenty of terrible authors who manage to make plenty of money. But, I wouldn’t have been proud of what I had written. And I guess that’s what I learned most at that moment in which I heard my book read out loud for the first time: I wasn’t proud of what I had written. I was proud that I HAD written something, but I didn’t actually care about the book I wrote at all.

And I went into another one of those despair spirals.

I didn’t know what to do. I knew I needed to give the book a full edit, but at this point, I was absolutely done with this book, and I couldn’t, in any way shape or form look at it ever again.

While I immediately removed the book from sale, I then spent months trying to figure out what to do with this thing I had spent so much time on. I was absolutely gutted that I realized I had something I thought was crap, and the very basic concept of having to sit through re-reading it and then actually fixing all of these problems, while also recognizing at this point that I wasn’t going be handed wads of cash as a reward for simply finishing a book, well, it broke me.

And then, out of the blue, I received an inspiration for a new story. And I absolutely needed to write this new book.

And…that’s the problem with actually being an author. Even in the midst of your despair spirals, you’ll find there’s yet another story to be told.

SYWTBAW III – But Should You?

About halfway through writing your first draft, you’ll probably reach a point in which you’ll really start to question whether or not you are able to make it as a writer. Part of the reason for this is because you’re going to find that you somehow became completely lost in what you were writing. Like, you don’t know what you were doing. You don’t know where you were planning on going. And no matter what, you absolutely don’t think you have any way of possibly getting anywhere further in this story that you’ve already been bleeding yourself dry in order to get out there.

I remember when writing the first draft of Buddy Hero, I reached a moment in which I literally had no clue of anything that was going on in the story any longer. And I remember going backwards in re-reading what I had written and not remembering half of it, and also thinking that I needed to completely rewrite the whole thing from the start, even though I had spent months getting to this point already.

And I broke down.

I literally got to such a level of frustration that I couldn’t possibly continue any further and tears started falling because I had put so much of myself into this thing so far, and I felt no connection to it any longer, and I knew that I simply needed to throw it all away because it wasn’t what I had thought I was making.

I’d love to tell you that this was the only time I felt this way in my history as an author, but the truth is, I feel this way quite often. This feeling of absolute distress because something I’ve put so much energy into just isn’t quite what I had expected it to be and I either don’t have any idea of how to get it back on track, or am terrified about the amount of effort I’m going to have to perform in order to get it back on track.

This feeling of despair is, from what I’ve seen talking to my friends who are authors, as well as my own experience, common.

How couldn’t it be? This is an expression of yourself. Whether you’re simply working on your own memoirs or something involving space cyborg-unicorns (or is it cyborg space-unicorns?), it is an expression of who you are. That means that any time that self-expression doesn’t feel right, or isn’t received in the way you expect/hope it to be, it can be a significant blow against yourself.

Writing, like any artform, is a process of making oneself vulnerable, of showing parts of yourself that you would never show to anyone otherwise. In my books, I’ve tackled things such as my issues with religion, my issues with politics, my issues with family, and the story I’m working on right now is basically me dealing with the possibility of my wife dying. These are all very dear and personal topics that I typically avoid talking about, and here I’ve put them all to the page in one way or another, typically through a few filters of abstraction, for people to read and comment on in whatever way they see fit. Heck, some of those comments even come from people who haven’t read the story at all, but just want to give a negative review for the sake of giving a negative review (speaking of a relatively recent review I got where the reviewer obviously skimmed through a few pages, saw a name, and decided that was the protagonist even though they appear infrequently, and based their entire review around that).

Which means that even after finishing a book, I can get hit out of left field when someone reads my book and simply doesn’t like it. While a part of me definitely knows that my books aren’t for everyone, another part takes it as a personal attack.

I’ve never been great at dealing with emotions, and I’ve been even worse at dealing with people not liking me, so, these are two things I’ve traditionally attempted to avoid in my adult life…

These are not things that can be avoided well as an artist of any type. Sure, you can attempt to develop a thick skin, or ignore the Internet comments, but the truth of the matter is, you’re going to be your harshest critic, and you will get down on yourself the most about anything you feel isn’t quite right and whether it’s in the midst of your first draft, or during the editing process, or simply while thinking about what to write next, you will reach that point of despair where it becomes almost impossible to function. Where you will shut down a part of yourself that you feel is dear to you.

Writing is not for the faint of heart. We have to be warriors, ready to battle against all who would dare to tell us we’re not good enough, even if it’s ourselves we have to battle for that. And sometimes that battle is almost impossible to win.

So, should you write? Yes, I absolutely believe you should. But be prepared, because there’s a ton of heartache ahead of you if you do.

SYWTBAW II: “I Want to Write a Book”

Maybe you finished reading a great book, but couldn’t help thinking you could have done it better. Or perhaps you have this fantastic idea for a story you wish someone would write. Or possibly you don’t know why, but you’ve always just wanted to write a book.

For whatever your reason, you’re in the first stage of being an author, which is, simply, that you want to be an author.

Now, I’m obviously putting a focus on books specifically, but there are all sorts of simple variations on this. Like wanting to write a screenplay, or a stageplay, or maybe even, you want to start a blog. And honestly, this could stretch even further to other things like learning a new language or how to play an instrument, but we’re going to focus on the book aspect for simplicity’s sake. And so, whatever you want to write, you’ve found yourself with the itch. The Writer’s Itch. The itch that can really only be scratched one incredibly time-consuming and patience-testing way.

The first thing to realize is that you’re not alone. The number of people who want to write, but simply don’t get started are infinitesimal. Just take a look at the sheer numbers of books, blogs, screenplays, etc. being produced on an hourly basis and think about how there are, unquestionably, far more people who never even get started.

In fact, the whole concept of the National Novel Writing Month (better known as NaNoWriMo, and happening every November) is to get people who want to write, to write. This program had over 450,000 participants in 2019. This alone should show you that you’re simply not alone in your position of wanting to write.

I, myself, spent a number of years in the position of thinking I should write a book, but feeling that the sheer enormity of the concept was too much to handle. The simple idea of writing 1,000 words felt like an insurmountable task, much less the 50,000 words it takes to crest the lower word count for a novel.

I remember taking a lot of time, even after my wife convinced me that I should write a book, doing those things which I recognize now as being procrastination tactics, like hours upon hours of character background studies for even the smallest of characters. I read a whole lot of books about people with superpowers to get a grasp of how they were being used in long-form prose, as opposed to the comic books and movies where they are more traditionally found. And while that research was incredibly useful, it was unquestionably something I used to procrastinate getting started.

And I’m not going to lie to you. When you actually start putting those first words to the page, it can be quite painful. There’s all the self-doubt that comes into play almost immediately, as you wonder whether you should even attempt such a feat when there are far more competent writers already in existence, not to mention the questions about whether or not its even worth is because how in the heck do you even find readers. And then you start reading what you’ve written and want to throw your computer in the trash, never to see this type of bs again.

And you probably actually step away from writing again completely, still sitting with that urge in the back of your mind that you should write a book. And you start thinking about all of the things you could have done differently. And after a period of time, you consider that there was just a little bit of enjoyment you had for at least a minute while you were working on those early pages.

And you start over from scratch.

And you do that routine another dozen times.

You will inevitably go out and seek information on the rules of novel writing and find such great missives as “Write what you know” and “Show don’t tell” and so many other things which are supposed to be the rules of writing while being incredibly vague in their meanings. And you’ll find yourself questioning if you’re actually following those rules correctly. And you’ll fret over the fact that you are most definitely not following those rules correctly. And you will ultimately fall into a state of severe anxiety that this whole thing is a huge mistake because you simply don’t know how to write a book, even though you’ve read thousands of them over your lifetime.

And it’s at this point that you need to head that absolutely none of that matters. First, there are no real rules to writing anything. Heck, even the rules of grammar are questioned by some of the greats. And besides, you’re still on your first draft. And, regardless of what rules you follow, there’s one you’ve been ignoring. First drafts are crap. Hemingway himself is quoted as saying “The first draft of anything is shit“.

The importance of the first draft isn’t to develop an absolutely perfect piece of artwork, it’s to create the bones by which you can mold something beautiful.

We’ll get into the first draft more in the next section, but I know that one of the biggest things that kept me from actually starting writing, and keeps many people from starting their way along the path to creating their masterpiece is the simple idea that everything they write is terrible. And, well, it probably will be. That’s what editing is for. And if you’re going to be a writer, you should realize that you will spend far more time editing that you’ll ever spend writing.

Which means, if you are struggling with getting started because you think what you write is crap, CONGRATS! you’re in a great place. Because if you ever hope to edit your book into something worthwhile, you have to be able to see its failures. And if you’re already seeing them before you’ve even completed the first draft, then you’re well on your way to becoming an amazing author.

So, if you want to write a book, just get started. Write something. Put a few words to paper. If it helps, consider it a test scene for the book you’re going to start writing, just so you start to get something out there. I often do this when starting work on a book, where I just write a little bit of a section of somewhere in the middle so I can get an idea of where I want to go, to develop the voice and tempo a bit. And the best part about this is that I write that knowing I’m going to throw it away.

Much like a first draft in general. You will throw away most of what you get out for your first draft. But, you’ll at least have something to work with.

When people ask me about what they should do to get into writing, my answer has always been to just start writing. And then the next day, you write some more. Because you can always go back and change things when you realize you screwed something up.

In summation, the TL:DR for today is “If you want to write, just start writing. The worst thing that could happen is you decide you don’t actually like writing and you’ll finally get that urge to write out of the back of your mind. The other thing that could happen is you find an incredible hobby which you can maybe turn into something more than a hobby.

And I hope you do start writing. There’s nothing I like more than to find more people passionate about crafting a story.

So You Want to Write a Book?

While in the midst of writing the first few chapters of a new book I’m working on, I’ve been reflecting on the past 10 years, since I first decided to actually sit down an write a book. And, in those 10 years, I’ve had a whole host of experiences that I feel are fairly unique to that of an author, or at least of an artist trying to find recognition for their work. And since I’ve had countless people come to me over the years asking my advice about what they should do with their desire to be an author, I thought it might be fun/interesting/hyper-depressing to start a little blog-series which goes over the process a typical author goes through from the moment they decide to write a book to, well, at least the 10 year point after that.

And, of course, the first step on wanting to write a book is to get that little weird niggling in the back of your mind that you want to write a book.

If there’s one thing I’ve heard most over the years, especially after I started letting people into my world of writing, it’s tales from people who simply know that they want to write a book. I don’t have enough fingers or toes to count how many people have told me they want to write a book, that they are proud/jealous of me simply for doing something they want to do so badly.

This started happening long before I ever actually even considered taking the time to write a novel. Back when I was writing little sketches, short stories, poems, and feature-length films. Back when writing was just something I would do quickly and with very little finesse or editing. I would just put words to paper and figured that was good enough.

And because of the fact that I enjoyed writing so much, people, even then, would tell me about how much they wanted to write a book someday. I remember a boss I had back when I was working at a place that developed photographs from film (which, I guess, ages me), who loved to tell me about how much he wanted to write a book, and how he had this whole fantasy epic in mind, and he would give me these great big details about the world and the plot that he had already developed, without writing a single word of it down. He had obviously spent countless hours on his idea, thinking through how he could tell this story he had envisioned.

And me, being the guy who liked to jump in, regardless of whether I had any idea of what to do with the art after I completed it, would always tell him that he should just sit down and write it.

He, being much more pragmatic than I, would always talk about how he had no idea of how he would even sell the thing if he put in the effort, and that alone was enough to keep him from moving forward. While I would always give him my ideas on how he could possibly build a brand for himself (things, I’ll admit, I’ve never been very good at following through on for myself), he never actually moved forward on this dream of his, at least not while he was still in my life. I should honestly check up on him, find out if he’s alive or has written that epic fantasy.

I’ve also known numerous people, outside of my actual author circles, who did take the leap and did do the writing, and ultimately, just wrote for the sake of writing. These are people whom I’ve never seen make any attempt to market or sell their stories, just that they had a story they needed to get out, and so they did.

And then there’s the people who have countless stories they’ve started to write, but just give up on for one reason or another.

And finally, there are those few success stories. People who not only wrote the book, but figured out how to market it, and have actually managed to make something of a name for themselves.

The bottom line is that there are so many novelists out there, even if just basic friend circles, whether aspiring, accomplished, or in-between, that it really feels like there’s a solid story to be told about the ultimately heartbreaking and patience-testing industry which is that of publishing.

And so, I’m going to it to you.

And maybe, just maybe, you’ll find a part of yourself somewhere in the midst of it all, and maybe, just maybe, you’ll recognize that you’re not alone in your feelings throughout this process. Because, based on the hundreds of conversations I’ve had with authors over the years, this industry is a painful one, but also one that can cause amazing joys.

So, let’s dig in and see what I can come up with. Because writing is one of my absolutely favorite things to do. And since I struggle to find more readers, maybe, instead, I can just find some more writers out there. Because you guys I understand.

Dobbs v Roe

While we’ve known it was coming for weeks now, this past week The United States Supreme Court overturned the court case from the 1970s which served as the primary framework for allowing women to terminate pregnancies in this country. And while this decision doesn’t outright ban abortion in America, it turns the decision over to each state, meaning that in a majority of states, something that was legal just days ago, is suddenly illegal.

Many organizations here in Wisconsin have already cut off options they have offered for decades, with little to no warning.

Now, I’ll admit, I’ve long had struggles with the topic of abortion. And, as a man, I’m honestly not the best choice of person for trying to make any sweeping statements about how women should be allowed to do what they consider best for their own bodies.

I’ve watched first-hand as my wife has gone through at least five different pregnancies (two of which were ended prematurely through unfortunately natural means). Each one had its own impacts on her body. And each one had me terrified at one point or another that I could lose her to the impacts those pregnancies had on her. I have personally spent long periods of time in my anxiety-ridden pre-dad brain trying to think of how I would respond if the decision were left to me to choose between my wife and my unborn child. And I feel lucky in many ways that as a man, I’ve never had to make that decision.

And while I believe in the idea of the sanctity of life, I’m not sure that this is what the discussion actually ends up being about in our current debates regarding abortion. It tends to be far more political than that. And in so many situations, especially now that we have changed the rules of termination, we find ourselves considering the life of the unborn is more important than any other life, or their life after birth. This isn’t about the sanctity of life, this is about power. This is about control.

For ages now, we’ve seen the poor in this country cut off from the education, the support, or the finances necessary to A. Have better ways to keep from getting pregnant in the first place or B. Support the child after it is born. Our foster care systems are overwhelmed with children born to parents who simply can’t or won’t be responsible for them. In 2020, over 38 million Americans struggled to feed themselves or their families. Over 10 percent of our country spent at least a portion of that year not knowing where they were going to get their next meal. 1 in 7 households with children could not buy enough food for their family that year. In America, a country known for its wealth and enormous farms, a significant portion of our countrymen struggled to live because they couldn’t find food.

If life is sacred, surely that includes the life of those outside the womb as much as those inside of it, doesn’t it?

Planned Parenthood has been the target for anti-abortionists for as long as I can remember because of how they provide options for terminating pregnancies, but are completely overlooked for all they have done to try to limit the amount of pregnancies that occur in the first place. Anti-abortionists have bombed these exact locations which have been actively working to decrease unwanted pregnancies because of the fact that they also have given options for people who simply can’t take care of a child on their own.

The debate about abortions is far more nuanced than simply about whether we should kill babies or not. There are health issues for mothers that come into play, health issues for fetuses, as well as the overall questions of incest and rape which often get completely ignored because there aren’t easy answers. Pregnancy is not like some simple common cold condition that will go away soon with no real lasting impacts. You don’t just wait 10 months (or 9 if you want to count the way we used to when I was a kid) and eat a bunch of ice cream and pickles until the baby’s out. That’s only the beginning, not the end. Especially for that child.

Out of all of the people I have known to have gotten abortions, not a single one of them took that decision lightly. I have never had a discussion with someone who was eager to end the life inside of them. It was a weighed decision which took time. If anything, with the fact that we’re decreasing the time people have to make decisions about whether or not to terminate their pregnancies, we’re looking at a probable increase in overall abortion rates.

In short, I think everything about this was short sighted. And this is coming from someone who cringes at the idea of ending any life short.

But then again, our country is long past the ability for nuanced discussion about any politicized topic. It has all become a black or white question of morality.

And that’s terrifying to me.

But my fear doesn’t end there. Because considering this is primarily a religious/political discussion, this feels like only the beginning of something far larger. For more terrifying.

While there are plenty of places in which the Bible talks about the sanctity of life, there are really only a few places that are typically applied to the discussion of abortion. The primary one used by many folks is in Psalm 51:5 where the writer mentions being conceived in sin. Now, the main takeaway many take here is that this means we are alive at conception because we are sinful at conception. However, considering the idea of original sin, that the sins of Adam are passed on to his entire lineage, it’s pretty simple to see that this could simply be a statement that once you exist in any form, you exist in a world of sin, not necessarily a statement of when life begins. In fact, there are places such as Jeremiah 1:5 where God is talked about as knowing a person before they are even formed in the womb, which would presumably be even before conception, presenting the idea of existence prior to existence in the womb. Although, the Jeremiah verse is also often used as a statement against abortion.

The other big thing which comes into play here is the concept of every sperm being sacred, which ultimately comes from the story of Onan, whose favorite method of finishing relations with his wife is known today as the pull-out method. God put Onan to death, in fact. Of course, there was a bigger issue here in that he was told by God, through Judah, that he was to impregnate his wife, so, there might be something here about disobeying an order from the Almighty, more than that he was wasting his seed.

But, even more importantly, there are only a handful of Biblical verses Christians have to support their reasoning behind their thoughts. Mostly Old Testament verses. On things people of the Jewish faith typically don’t see the same way.

The big fear I see here then is with the concept of what happens when these Christians in power start realizing there’s actually one theme repeated throughout the Bible more than any other one. That of faith. That faith is the most important thing for humans to be saved. Jesus himself says it all the time. If we’re using legislation to enact the will of God as we see it, what do we do with the knowledge that his greatest will is for all men to be saved? Create a new Holy Roman Empire where it’s literally illegal to believe anything outside of the government’s official religion?

Yeah, sure that’s a wild example, but the point here is that it terrifies me to think that our legislation could be so focused on the faith of one group. And, even the religious among you should be terrified of that exact same thing.

Peach Fest 2022

2022 has already been a wild ride for the Oster household. And it feels like, in many ways, we are reaching a threshold for that craziness. And that threshold is what we’ve been referring to as Peach Fest. For the past 2 years, we’ve been bringing up fresh peaches from South Carolina, selling them to family and friends, and taking the proceeds to donate to some worthy causes. Last year we sold an incredible 45 cases of peaches, and raised over $1000 for a local group that supports the homeless population.

This year, next week, in fact, we’re picking up 450 cases (that’s 10 times what we got last year), and setting up outside our little bakery, and hoping to raise quite a bit more. We’re actually splitting the proceeds for this year’s event across 4 different non-profits, all providing some amazing good for our local community’s less fortunate population. Bolton Refuge House, Sojourner House, The Community Table, and the Chippewa Valley Street Ministry are all groups that we love and are incredibly eager to support.

But this also means that next week, we have a fully packed week of me getting down to South Carolina and back with a U-haul full of peaches, while my wife and kids prep everything in town for the bakery to be ready to take on this (hopefully) large influx of people. We’re so excited to do something this big (although, it was almost far larger of an event, and if this year goes well, will definitely be a larger event next year), but, also a bit anxious.

It’s one thing to provide something cool for family and friends, while doing some good. It’s another thing entirely to invite the public.

Not to mention that I’m still a little nervous about those peaches getting far too hot in the back of the truck, even if I have a few ideas on how to keep them from spoiling.

So…next week…I’ll be something of a mess. But I’m pretty excited about what all could be done. And…if you guys help us make this a success, next year will only be more spectacular. Believe me. Let’s make that one happen…even if it breaks my brain to get there.

Flash Fiction: Summer!

The house was dark that morning, as should be expected at 6am. It was also quiet, except for the light patter of footfalls as they made their way across the hardwood floors of the hallway, followed by the faint creaking of a door opening to a bedroom.

A couple more footsteps before they again stopped. The woman in the bed felt a finger poking her in the middle of her back. She stirred and gave a groan as she rolled over to look at the face of the young child who was eager to greet her with the morning.

“Good morning, Jack,” she said groggily. “You should go back to sleep.”

“But it’s summer!” the seven-year-old cheered. “Aren’t you excited?”

“Summer means we don’t have to get up early. Go back to bed.”

“But I can’t sleep,” the boy said as he tried climbing into the bed with his mother. Although there didn’t appear to be enough space for him to fit, he managed to make the space, pushing in close to keep himself from falling off.

“Come on, Jack,” his mother muttered. “Go back to sleep.”

“Okay,” Jack agreed as he shifted his body to snuggle in closer.

“No, in your bed.”

“But I want to sleep with you.”

“Fine,” his mother relented. She shifted her body deeper into the bed to try to keep her son sliding onto the floor. She nudged her husband in the process, causing him to grunt before rolling over.

“Are you excited, Mommy?” Jack asked in a whisper.

“I’m excited to go back to sleep,” she answered.

“But it’s summer. That means no more school!”

“It should also mean that we get to sleep in late.”

“But the pool, Mom! The pool is open today.”

His mother opened her eyes fully for the first time, recognizing her attempts to fall back asleep were a lost cause. She hugged her child tightly, happy to have a kid who wanted her attention so badly, even if she wished it would happen at a time more suitable to a full-night’s rest.

“I’m excited, Mommy. Aren’t you excited?”

“But, Jacky, Mommy still has to work. I don’t get to go to the pool.”

“Oh, that’s sad.”

“Yeah, I guess it is.”

“What about tomorrow? Do you have to work tomorrow?”

“Yes, I have to work tomorrow.”

“And the next day?” he asked, suddenly shifting his body around to look his mother in her eyes.

“Yes, I have to work until Saturday.”

“And then can we go to the pool?”

“Yeah, sure, then we can go to the pool.”

“And then will you be excited?”

“Yes, and then I’ll be excited.”

“Me too, Mom. I’m excited.”

“Great,” his mother answered. “Now let’s get up and make some coffee.”

Flash Fiction: A Thousand Conversations

“Good morning,” Jeremy said, greeting the first customer of the day. “What can I do for you?”

The customer smiled, but her focus was not on Jeremy. Instead, she was focusing on all of the pastries held within the case which served as the focal point of this small café and bakery.

“Oh, there’s just so many to choose from,” she said, leaning closer to the glass partition keeping her from directly touching any of the freshly baked goods.

“There sure are,” Jeremy answered. “That’s why I always just take one of each,” he said with a joking smile.

“Don’t tempt me,” she replied. Her focus finally turned to Jeremy. “How long have you guys been here? I live in town, but have never managed to make it down.”

“We’ve been open for just about three months now.” Jeremy shrugged, wishing he had a more fun answer to give. He’ll have to work on coming up with something better.

“Well, I’ve definitely been missing out then, haven’t I?” she asked, walking around the corner of the case to see the rest of the items on display. Her eyes darted left and right as she took in all there was to see. Between the macarons, the croissants, the tarts, and all of the other sweets that had been baked in house that morning, there was plenty for her to take in. As she did, a family of three walked through the door, a man and a woman and their daughter who looked to be about five years old.

“Good morning,” Jeremy said to them.

“Good morning!” the father said loudly. “What have you guys got good today?”

“It looks like everything,” the first customer said as she smiled at the family.

This was Jeremy’s favorite part of working at the bakery. It seemed like everyone who came through the doors were happy to be there and wanted to share that happiness with everyone else who happened to be sharing the smells at the same time.

“Oh, we know that,” the mother of the family joined in. “Although, if you’re looking for a recommendation, I’d suggest the souvenir beaune. It’s the one with the pear right there,” she added, pointing in the case at a small square-ish pastry filled with pear halves and raspberry jam. “That’s Bella’s favorite, isn’t it?” she said, asking her daughter. The young girl nodded her head enthusiastically.

“Oh, well, if you suggest it, then I have to take that,” the first customer said happily. “And I’ll take one of each of the flavors of macarons, if I could.”

Jeremy laughed. “I guess I’ll let you.”

All day, it seemed, his conversations were variations on this same theme. And he would play his part, primarily as a third wheel to discussions about the goodies his wife and staff had been baking, interjecting well rehearsed quips and comments to try to aid in the atmosphere of pleasure that his wife’s business had managed to present.

Another customer walked through the door as Jeremy boxed up the first customer’s order. A tall man, with a long white beard hiding behind the mask he wore.

“Robert!” Jeremy shouted as he saw the familiar form of one of the shop’s regular customers. “I’ll make sure they get your order started.”

“Sounds good, Jeremy. I’m going to pick up something tasty for the wife as well.”

“I’d be surprised if you didn’t,” Jeremy chuckled.

He finished packing up the order and entered the order into the register. As he completed the transaction with her, she smiled while gathering her packages.

“Thanks for stopping in,” Jeremy said as she started toward the door.

“I’ll definitely be back,” she said proudly.

“Glad to hear it,” Jeremy smiled back.

And he was. Not because he needed the business to make money so he didn’t lose the house, but because he loved watching all of these customers come in and enjoy the things his wife and staff slaved over. He adored the positive attention the fruits of his wife’s long years of wanting to open her business was now garnering. And he loved the way he felt as he helped people through the process of deciding what they wanted to eat immediately and what they wanted to take home with them.

And although he could definitely use another coffee to drink to help him get pepped up, he was ready to have this exact conversation another nine hundred ninety-nine times today. If only he could figure out a good quip about how long they’ve been open. Maybe something about how he’s still new here?

Showtime-Adam

This past weekend, I celebrated the graduation of my goddaughter/niece, as well as a couple of cousins. I probably also shouldn’t ignore that this was my own graduation weekend, but since I decided not to travel down to Milwaukee and put on an ill-fitting dress and hat to be allowed to sit in an uncomfortable chair for multiple hours (even if Willem Dafoe was being given an honorary degree from the same school at the same time), I allowed that to take a back burner. Besides, I feel a little weird about the whole graduation thing anyways.

But that’s not the focus of the story. The focus is that at this graduation, which is from the same high school that I’m an alumnus from, it is quite the common occurrence to come across a large number of people I went to school with back in the day, seeing as this school is filled with a large number of people who are related to each other through marriage and the like. It’s not an uncommon joke about how difficult it can be for students to find a relationship partner in this school due to how interconnected it is. I even came up with a genealogy/dating app idea this weekend which was already starting to gain some traction, for all my angel investors out there…

And so, since I have a ton of family members who are regularly graduating from this school, I find myself attending graduation here almost yearly. And that means that I then wind up seeing people I haven’t seen for over 20 years. And it also means that I have to take on this persona that I don’t generally use in my daily life. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has this persona. I’ve been calling him “Showtime Adam” as of late, although I’m really hoping I come up with a better term for him soon.

He’s this chipper, friendly, full of jokes kind of guy who definitely isn’t incredibly exhausted from life and certainly could never suffer from crippling depression. I actually like Showtime Adam, even if I’m not sure he comes across quite as likeable as he thinks he does. I also like being him. He brings me back to this far older version of myself who everyone believed was an extrovert. He’s this version of me who can push past the anxiety and run up to someone and have a good ol’ regular conversation with them like it’s nothing. He is, actually, everything I wanted to be growing up.

But he is exhausting.

Like, I don’t know how legitimate extroverts do it? How do they go about their day being themselves every dang day and not have to take a week-long nap?

I’m really glad Showtime Adam exists, because if it weren’t for him, I’d never be able to catch up with these people who were really important to me for at least a brief portion of my life. He’s the Little Engine That Could for interpersonal relationships. He’s the guy who says, “Screw that little voice in your head that says no one liked you in high school and go talk to that person who used to give you hugs every morning.”

I thoroughly enjoyed getting to catch up with these people whom I’ve really only had the most basic of Facebook interactions with since high school. I’ve actually been quite lucky over the past year in that I’ve been finding myself in the presence of countless people who I’ve lost contact with and being able to regain some level of it again. I’ve joked with my wife that it almost feels like my life has become the final season of a beloved TV show, where all these people who had supporting roles over the years show up for one final hurrah.

She doesn’t like that joke.

So, thank you Showtime Adam, for allowing me to get to say hi to these people who used to be such an effortless relationship. For allowing me to reconnect with people I love. Someday, maybe, we’ll find a way to be more of the same person so I don’t have to hide behind a computer screen typing out my feelings about how much I love these people and just tell them to their faces. But for now, I’m really ready for a nap, because even four days later, the effects of Showtime Adam are still wearing on me…