Iowa

Hit the road, Jack...

The last time I wrote that having a variety of job experiences is a good thing for writers, just for their overall education and background to draw from. I realize it also made it look like I couldn't keep a job, but there's nothing I can do about that. You may reach any conclusion you want.

Today I'm addressing another topic, and that is the benefit of travel as a source of education and material. I tend to believe this one, although I know it's possible to travel in one's imagination and still come out sounding knowledgeable. I'm confident Arthur C. Clarke did a fine job with 2001: A Space Odyssey.

I have traveled a lot, including 47 states and the District of Columbia. I have actually lived in Iowa, California, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia, and Virginia. I lived on USAF bases in Texas and Massachusetts. I also traveled in 24 countries, living in Germany, Turkey, and Israel, and stationed by the USAF in The Republic of the Philippines for eighteen months.

I have yet to live on another planet, but if that ever happens, there'll be something I can use for my stories. Travel!

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Twittering Twitterer Twit

Growing up in Iowa, back when just a few of the smaller dinosaurs were still scurrying around shopping for sweaters, I thought a "tweet" was some kind of edible reward for being good, such as butter brickle ice cream or a  "black cow" at the A & W stand three blocks down North Second Street from where I lived. Now, I have been educated. Wikipedia defines "twitter" this way:  "Twitter is an online news and social networking service where users post and interact with messages, "tweets," restricted to 140 characters. Registered users can post tweets, but those who are unregistered can only read them."

So, why am I telling you this? Starting in April, I will be twittering all kinds of tweets for people interested in what I have to say. And I think all three of you will enjoy my profound insights into life, death, sports, food, books, and dating topics. There will be none on politics or religion. I will be offering up tweets as a shameless act of self promotion for my novels. Marketing experts agree that it is a good idea for writers. So in addition to my blog you are reading and new website at www.johncarenenwrites.com, there will be tweets.

I hope you will come looking for my tweets. I think you will be pleased.

See you in April!

Devastated

I've always believed words mean things, and "devastated" has been misused a good bit lately. For example, I know of smart people who said they were  "devastated" by the death of Princess Leia, and "devastated" some more when her mum, Debbie Reynolds, died the next day. Now, those deaths are sad, but, really, how can one be "devastated" by the death of someone who, basically, made movies? The word means, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, "severe and overwhelming (my italics) shock or grief." 

I thought Princess Leia was cool, but she was fictional, created for entertainment purposes. Same for her mother's roles. It was sad that there was a history of mental illness and substance abuse, truly. But for someone who didn't even know these people to be "devastated" when they died? It baffles me. Time to move on, I think.

Recently, my favorite college football team, the Iowa Hawkeyes, were demolished in the Outback Bowl by Florida's Gators. The final score was 30-3. When the game was over and I had clicked off the TV, I just sat there. My long-suffering wife took one look at me and asked, "Are you okay?"

"No," I said. "Devastated."

Photo cred: Chris O'Meara AP Photo

Agent Unawares (For Now)

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For all practical purposes, I have finished the "big" novel I've been writing to you all about.  Thirty-eight chapters ast it turns out, thoroughly reviewed, critiqued, and edited by my stellar book concierge, and studied by my writers group, "The Write Minds." I enjoyed writing the book, enjoyed the several revisions, enjoyed the outcome of the story that has redemption in it for a very troubled protagonist. Now the hard part sets in, the "corrosive self doubt" that I wrote about earlier that all writers feel.  It isn't any good.  It might be good but no one will want it.  Is it the best I can do?  Did I waste my time?  What will my 6th grade teacher at Hawthorne Elementary School in Clinton, Iowa think of it?

Something even harder begins now, and that - finding an agent.  I published my first two novels, and the third to come, without an agent.  So, why do I need an agent for this book?  Because there is a whole business side of publishing that I know nothing about and that my current publisher does not pursue.  How to push the book.  How to get rave reviews.  How to boost sales.  How to expand author's rights into foreign sales, getting into big bookstores, even movies.  How to, I tremble to mention this, how to make some money at my craft.

I have writer friends who have written wonderful novels and can't get published.  I have writer friends who got published but have made less than $500 in royalties over two or three years.  I have writer friends who despair and give up, but I'm not doing that.  I wrote a good book.  I hope to find an excellent agent who will boost my career.

I will keep you posted, dear readers.

Taking a Page from Stephen King

Some famous author once said that when a writer finishes writing their novel, a sort of depression sets in, not unlike the postpartum blues women suffer from right after having a baby. I can't relate to postpartum depression, nor can I say rightly that I get down after completing the last chapter of a novel.  you see, I just finished the last chapter to my work, a 97,000-word "upmarket commercial" effort.  And I did not get depressed.  What I wanted to do was immediately start revising, so I did, looking specifically for two of my blind spots - passive voice and "echo," a term we writers use to describe using the same important word twice within close proximity of each other.  That proximity blind spot can be annoying, a speed bump interfering with the reader's flow and proximity to a smooth narrative.

So I did that, weeding out my blind spots.  What's next, you may ask?

When Stephen King finishes a novel, he sets it aside for a month or more and does something else, such as going for long walks or watching Boston Red Sox games, or reading what other writers are publishing.

My urge was to get back to working on my fourth Thomas O'Shea novel, since the first two are published (Signs of Struggle 2012 and A Far Gone Night 2014) and a third (The Face on the Other Side) is scheduled for an early 2017 release.  So I plan to get after number four in the series, Of Mists and Murders.

I am a professional writer, so I have a compulsion to write, and I am itching to produce that next O'Shea novel, and it nags at me.  But first, I am going to follow King's example and take some time off, starting with a long road trip with my bride, watching college football on TV (especially my Iowa Hawkeyes), and enjoying the changing of the seasons leading into my favorite month - October.

I will, however, keep a notebook in close proximity at all times, just in case I need to jot down a piece of dialogue that comes to mind, a vivid setting, or a conflict among my characters I had not thought of previously.

So, no more blogs for a while, but please look to hear from me and my writer's journey when the leaves turn to gold and orange and red.king

A Writer's Wednesday

In my previous offering, I wrote about what it's like, a little, as a full time writer. I also alluded to the fact that I was about to write the final chapter of my most recent novel, which would have been Chapter 35. Guess what? Well, I did finish the novel last night, but it was Chapter 37. Things happened that I didn't expect, including a blizzard and a puppy and a couple of scenes in a pub. If you're a writer, you know how that happens. If you're not, let me try to explain. People say, "How in the world can something can happen in a story you, the author, are writing, and how can you be surprised? Aren't you in charge? This doesn't make any sense!"

They're right and wrong. Yes, I am the writer and I am in charge, and responsible for, what I write. But no, I'm not surprised when something happens I didn't plan on happening. How does that happen? Well, if I'm writing regularly, and I'm talking about several pages or even a full chapter, then the story sort of writes itself, in a sense because the story is happening inside my head, and things can intrude - scenes, dialogue, action - that I didn't plan. I do not outline. I do not write the last chapter first. I don't even know how the novel is going to wind up when I start. In this case, I did know that there would be redemption at the end, but that was it. How was that going to happen? Don't ask me. I can't answer the question.

So, how does it feel to have finished? It's good and bad. It's good because I've accomplished what I set out to do. It's bad because it's over, the relationships I have with the characters and the story. What's next? I'll set it aside for a while, several weeks maybe (Stephen King sets his aside for three months), but I'll still be thinking what I'm going to do to make it better. I'll get ideas, I'll jot notes, I'll answer questions that should have been answered in the book (why does that guy bite people instead of say hello?) and so forth.

In the meantime, I am going back to Of Mists And Murders, #4 in the Thomas O'Shea series set in fictitious Rockbluff, Iowa, which is what I was working on when the idea for this other novel shoved its way into my schedule. In other words, when I finish writing something, I write something else. Grand, isn't it?

Tomorrow may be Hell

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I was going to write series of postings about my work as a writer.  I have published the first two novels in the Thomas O'Shea series with #3 to published, I'm told, in December.  I was working on #4 when I felt I was a bit stale, and besides, there was an idea for another novel, a different kind of novel, that my imagination thrust upon me. So I wrote it.  I don't like the working title, but I must say I am pleased with the novel.  It's in the genre called "upmarket fiction" which is supposed to be a combination of literary fiction and commercial fiction.  It's supposed to be 35 chapters.  I have written 34.  But I don't know how to finish the book.  So, I have gone back and revised, hoping to unlock the key to that elusive last chapter.

Nevertheless, the last three days have been very good writing days as I have struggled to make chapters better.  Neil Gaiman said, "Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters."

The last three days have been good writing days.  However, I must say that other things matter, so there.

After several hours writing and revising today, my brain is tired and I plan to take a nap, enjoy dinner with my bride, play with my dog, Lily, winner for the second consecutive year as "Best In The Universe" at the Intergalactic Dog Show on Pluto.  Maybe watch some episodes of "Hell on Wheels" on Netflix.  I recommend the gritty series about building the transcontinental railroad, a project I remember well, my 4th grade class taking a field trip to see the progress out of Council Bluffs, Iowa.

Writing is hard, but I love it.  More later on when and if I can write Chapter 35.MV5BMjM5ODQ5Nzc3OF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwOTQzMzM4NjE@._V1_

Baby It's Cold Inside

Today I emailed back and with a friend from high school days who currently lives in Dubuque, Iowa.  He mentioned that he was supposed to be in Des Moines today for a presentation (he works for the ACT people) and a second presentation tomorrow.  He said it looked like both would be cancelled due to the winter storm warning that was declared.  The weather nerds are saying 18-24 inches for a good part of the state, including Des Moines and Dubuque. This information brought to  mind our local (Upstate South Carolina) winter storm a few days ago and how my long-suffering wife and I survived being 30 hours without electricity.  At first, it was an adventure.  Fortunately, we had plenty of propane for our gas logs, so the front of our cozy cottage stayed comfortable.  We shut off the gas logs that first night and retreated to our bedroom.  We woke up the next morning raid to extend ourselves from the warmth of the bed.  No wonder.  When I checked the thermostat, it read 49 degrees.  Indoors.  I nearly sprained my ankle running for the remote control thingy that fires up the gas logs.

During the day, we entertained ourselves reading by the light of the sun.  When it grew dark, I broke out the Coleman lanterns I had wanted for Christmas.  Also, I unpackaged the Coleman stop and fuel that were part of my Christmas gifts.  So we had hot food.  If we were to have a son, I would name him Coleman.  I am not kidding.

I was thinking how fun this was, you know, camping and enjoying "roughing it," yet staying indoors protected from any snakes and bugs that weren't frozen.  We had plenty of wine, cheese, bread, and several other goodies, and so the romance maintained.  When it got dark, we scooted for bed and flipped on the Coleman lanterns to read by for a while as we snuggled.

All this time, our young pit bull/terrier rescue canine was loving it, running out in the snow and leaping and biting the white stuff, then turning on the afterburners to race back to the front porch and inside to hang out in front of the fireplace.  She thought it was romantic, too.

The electricity returned just before dark on Saturday night, but we still weren't able to get out due to the snow on the ice on our upward-inclined driveway.  Not to mention all the trees down in our neighborhood, blocking roads.  So we just settled in some more, but with the delights of electricity.

And hot water.  Without it, romance can fade quickly.  Trust me on that one.f-lamps

Tee-Totaler

too_many_T-shirts_2 I have reached my limit on t-shirts. I finally paid attention to why my t-shirt drawer was so stuffed, as was the other t-shirt drawer. Not counting white t-shirts that I wear under regular shirts with collars, I have 15, FIFTEEN t-shirts with various statements on them.

Here they are: Boston Red Sox, Boston '13 World Champs, Boston Red Sox World Champs (in Hebrew), "I might live in South Carolina but I keep my sox in Boston," Newberry College, Narnia College (a favorite), Eastern Connecticut State University, black IOWA, white IOWA Football, Beware of Dawg (U. Of Georgia with famous picture on the back of Uga going after the Auburn player), black Wales, Israeli Defense Forces, POEM (Professional Organization of English Majors on back), "If you can't see Paris Mountain you're too far from home" (we live back up against Paris Mountain), and "Careful or you'll end up in my novel."

That's it, FIFTEEN t-shirts with a message. I intend to donate at least half to a charity. Some are so threadbare I'll recycle them into the trash. It will be hard, but no one who lives in a cozy cottage needs to have that many t-shirts taking up space. When that's done, I think I'll get a t-shirt with "Efficiency" across the chest.

I'm coming out on my birthday...

I've decided to come out of the closet. I really should have stayed in because now it's not so crowded since Caitlyn Jenner and Rachel Dolezal have emerged. But I take courage from their disclosures and feel that I might as well let everyone know that I no longer identify myself as a white guy from Iowa. There. I've done it. But I'm not satisfied with just that admission. Oh, no. I am moving forward. I am me, hear me roar! I am proud and pleased as punch to say that I am the first trans-species person on the planet! Oh, I expect scoffers. I expect harassment from all over the place. And I expect and even demand lots of face time on the networks who have nothing more important to talk about than Caitlyn, Rachel, and weird weather.

You might be wondering what other species than homo sapiens I might identify with. Here it is. I, John Carenen, now identify with the three-toed sloth. One source described the species as "bizarre animals who appear to live in slow motion," and if that ain't me, you haven't been paying attention. I am also described as "cryptic" ("having a meaning that is mysterious or obscure" - Oxford English Dictionary) and "slow moving." Family, friends, former classmates, teachers, and coaches are all saying at once, "Aha! That explains it!"

Indeed.

All these years I have been living in slow motion and without any clear meaning, and now I know why. When I first concluded that I was trans-species, I thought maybe I was a Golden Retriever. But the truth has set me free. Slowly.

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Keeping Tabs on Thomas

It's a good feeling to finish something that took nearly six months, and to be pleased with it. I'm talking about completing the sequel to Signs of Struggle, my debut novel in the general fiction field. I had no intention of writing a sequel, seeing SOS as a stand-alone story about a man in mid-life struggling with his demons and partly succeeding. Then my publisher said her mother wanted more about Thomas O'Shea, my protagonist. The publisher echoed her mom. And then several people who read SOS said they wanted to know more about Thomas. So I thought, okay, I can do that. And now I have. The sequel, A Far Gone Night, continues the story of Thomas O'Shea and his stumbling pursuit of the lovely and prickly Olivia Olson. All the usual wackos show up again, led by Lunatic Mooning, the Ojibwa Indian who runs The Grain o' Truth Bar & Grill in sleepy Rockbluff, Iowa. And there's also Sheriff Harmon Payne, Arvid Pendergast (who keeps playing dead to boost his business), and the rather straightforward barkeep/rassler/future surgeon - Bunza Steele. New characters include Clancy Dominguez, ex-SEAL friend of Thomas, and Boots Bednarik, bookstore owner. And of course there is the alluring and persistent writer, Suzanne Highsmith.

Throw these characters together and toss in a nude, dead body of an Indian girl floating in the Whitetail River, and things get interesting and interestinger. I'll keep you posted. Next stop: My book concierge, the gifted and talented Rowe Copeland, and then off to the publisher. No idea when the book will be ready to pick up, but I'll let you know.

Now, while sitting in a faculty meeting earlier this week, I found myself sketching notes for book number three in the life of Thomas O'Shea. And thank you all who purchased SOS and have even recommended it to your book clubs. What fun! I love writing!

Clinton High, co 1963

Quite a few years ago my father-in-law remarked, upon attending his high school's 50th reunion, "What were all those old people doing there?" He had a point, of course, and it was an insight into his attitude that his classmates might have been old, or certainly looked old, but that didn't apply to him. I can relate. I attended my high school's 50th Reunion a little over a weekend ago, and it was an unqualified success. Some of those people looked, even acted, old. Most didn't look old, were in good shape, and were fun to be around. Names tags with our high school pictures on them were useful, but in many cases not needed. People looked good.

We all seem to have adjusted, at least the 180 or so who were there. Since we graduated, there have been quite a few changes in our world. Electricity, automobiles, and indoor plumbing were science fiction back then. Paper was a new thing, and quill pens were only for the rich kids. Also, there was no such thing as sex. Then the world changed and we went along with it.

Some of my classmates (Martin Luther, Jane Austen [our Foreign Exchange Student], Carl Sandburg, had gone on to their just reward and were missed.

A reunion after fifty years is significant. It provides one with perspective not otherwise achievable, a perspective that lends depth and understanding to the seasons of life, the joy of old friends, and optimism for the future. One perspective is why those old girlfriends came up to me, slapped my face, and stalked away. I would say, "What is that for?" and they would stop, turn around, declare "You know what you did!" and march away, sometimes to applause from other women. No idea. None.

Other than those embarrassing moments, it was great fun. We're already planning a gathering again come spring. And, Lord willing, I'll be there again. Expecting to be slapped.

Blow Westward, Winds of Prayer

Like many of you, I have family and friends in Oklahoma, and I am happy to report that they were all okay through the recent swaths of destruction wrought by those sinister storms. One friend, a former colleague, lives in Shawnee, but she and her family were spared. Prayers answered, for sure. I have never been in a tornado or even seen one. There was an afternoon when I lived in Iowa and was driving toward Cedar Falls for a meeting. I turned the radio on when I noticed the weather ahead of me looked peculiar. The sky was black and green with dense clouds swirling low to the ground. The radio announcer started reporting that a tornado was just seen at such and such a place in Cedar Falls, and another one, and still a third.

At this point I made the wise decision to not drive on into Cedar Falls, just a few miles away. I turned off the highway and parked along a gravel road near a deep ditch. Shortly after, the all clear was sounded and I went on in.

My sister and her husband live outside Bixby, near Tulsa, and they have what she calls their "hidey hole," a concrete and steel tornado shelter deep into the ground. It has a heavy steel door with steel rods to hold it shut, steel steps leading down, and a heavy concrete and earth dome with a ventilation pipe overhead. Inside, there are two chairs, a table with a radio on it, and flashlights.

They spent time down there these last couple of days.

There are two old musicals that I enjoy. One is "Music Man," set in Iowa. I am partial to that one, being an Iowan. The other is "Oklahoma!" which is pretty good, too. But now, thanks to the tragedies these last few days in that fine state, I can never again hear the overture from the musical that sings forth, "Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin' down the plains . . . "

Please keep those people afflicted by the wind in your prayers

Wonder as I wander

Sunday, February 3rd, was teh 54th anniversary of the deaths of Buddy Holly, The Big Bopper (J.P. Richardson of "Chantilly Lace" fame), and Richie Valens ("Donna," "La Bamba," etc.).  They were killed in a plane crash in Iowa, where I happened to be living at the time.  A big story.  Theyhad finished a performance at the Surf Ballroom in Clear Lake and were headed for the next stop when Buddy chartered a four-seater plane, going on ahead while the rest of his group would take a bus.  The plane crashed shortly after takeoff into a blizzard.  The pilot was not trained in instrument flying, and the crash killed everyone.  Buddy Holly was 22 years old.

Someone had posted the anniversary on Facebook, and I commented that Holly had $193 on him when he died.  Several people have wondered, with some trepidation, how I knew that.

It's because I'm a writer.

I am doing research on my sequel to Signs of Struggle, a Thomas O'Shea Mystery.  The second in the series is called A Far Gone Night.  Thomas, while taking a lonely walk in the middle of the night, discovers a woman's body in the river that runs through the Iowa village where he lives nearby.  The death is ruled a suicide and ... , but, well, nevermind.  The point is, I had to know a little bit about coronoer's reports, death certificates, who has access to such information and so forth.  And, in the process, I bumped up against a copy of Buddy Holly's coroner's report.  Not pleasant reading (his injuries were catastrophic) but useful.  It cataloged his effects, including money on the body.

As a writer, I engage in considerable research to make sure I don't write something stupid, or inaccurate.  Actually, I enjoy the research, and I learn things.  Imagine!

One final fascinating bit that came from my research.  Buddy Holly and a person in his band kidded each other about which one of them would take the last seat on the plane, and Holly won out.  He joked, "I hope your ol' bus freezes up."  The bandmate kidded back, saying, "Well, I hope your ol' plane crashes."  The person who took the bus was Waylon Jennings.  He said his last words to Buddy Holly haunted him for decades.

Nanny-nanny

BlizzardThe weather's been a bit blunt lately, not only in the north, but here in the Upstate of South Carolina as well. All the blizzards remind me why my long-suffering wife and Ivacated Iowa when we finished school up there. We made our decision the morning we let our Bulldog (Dudley) out and, when he didn't come back as usual, we looked out the front window and saw him frozen to a fire hydrant.

Which brings me to the nanny-local-weather and the nanny state we live in. They tell us to dress warmly when it's cold, take an umbrella when it's raining, don't shovel too much snow when you're trying to dig out from a blizzard, and don't get wet when the weather's bad. I appreciate the advice. I mean, I would never have figured any of that out on my own. I did figure out not to put my tongue on the flagpole when it's -15 degrees. And I remembered not to ever do that again, and I learned that independently. Once was enough.

What's next? Well, I suspect the gummint will start fining people for not listening to them. Heart attack from shoveling heavy snow? Big fine. Out in a misty morning without an umbrella. Medium fine. Not dressing warmly when it's cold out (THEY will decide what's cold out), maybe just a warning. Seriously, if the feds can tell us what kind of light bulbs and commodes we can have . . .

Cell No!

Recently, during a discussion in our kitchen about the time-space continuum and dog farts, the topic of cell phones came up.  I hate them. I think they might have some use if I were back in Iowa, the western counties, and a blizzard was coming on as I drove into the great chasm between Varina and Odebolt, and it might be nice to let people know where I was in case the blizzard blew me into a ditch and covered me up. Barring that, I don’t see much point beyond chatting, and any male who likes to chat, and do so on a cell phone, needs to buy his underwear at Victoria’s Secret. I hate cell phones. However, I own one. Lisa bought me one for my birthday a while back and I am just now learning how to answer it. I carry it in my school bag where it usually stays, and does so in the OFF mode. I know how to send a call and how to receive it. For either, you just flip off (I mean flip open) the phone and push the button marked “STUPID.”

Anyway, Lisa and our younger daughter Rowe were putting together some baked goodies recently, but they had a problem. They were out of brown sugar. I volunteered to go to the store before the football game started. I am such a prince.

“Here, take your phone in case we forget something,” Lisa said, pushing it toward me from the kitchen countertop where it was plugged into an outlet, charging up.

I recoiled from the odious instrument. Pure instinct. It was like the time I came upon a copperhead on the foot path in the mountains. I said, “No, you guys write down exactly what you need and then I’ll be happy to go get it. Without the cell phone.”

“It won’t hurt you to take it, just in case,” Lisa said, scribbling down what else she needed.

“I would rather make three trips to the supermarket than answer one cell phone call.  In public. Make that four trips,” I said.

Lisa game me a look and I acquiesced.

As I reached for the vile thing, Rowe, who loves technology, said, “Let me show you some of the options, Dad.’

“I don’t want any options,” I said. For some reason, she thought that was funny.

When I got to the supermarket I considered leaving the phone in the car. That way, if they called, they could just leave a message and I could say, sorry, I just finished. Then I realized I did not yet know how to retrieve a message, so I slipped the phone in my jeans pocket and went inside. I shopped as fast as I could because I suspected, as a joke, Lisa and Rowe would give me a call. What fun to harass people about that which troubles them. I told them I did not like bells going off in my pockets, especially in public, but I still didn’t trust them.

I was making great progress on the list (cocoa, white flour, and brown sugar) until I got to the brown sugar. Lisa wanted the kind in the plastic bag and all I could find was the kind in a box. On top of that, she had not said what kind of brown sugar – dark brown, light brown, granulated, raw brown, sorta brown, fawn brown, sandalwood brown, faux brown – she wanted. This slowed me down. It also made my body itch all over because I was confident about the trick call allowing the people around me to mutter about the dork talking in the baking supplies aisle.

What to do?  What to do!  I paused, transfixed, in front of the sugar shelves.  If I could grab what she wanted and get out, maybe I’d get home before she and Rowe pull their little joke.

As I reached for the boxed light brown sugar to be used only on weekends by right-handed women of German-Scotch descent, my pocket jingled softly. At first I thought it was someone else because it had never happened to me before. When I realized it was for me, I retrieved the insidious device, flipped it open on the third try, pushed “STUPID” and said, “This better be good.”

It was my bride. “Baking SO-da,” she said.  “Add baking SO-da.”

“I got it,” I muttered. I pressed STUPID to END the message (END rhymes with SEND) avoided the glares of my fellow shoppers, whipped through the “10 Items or Less,” checkout, and sped home.

I hate cell phones.

We're gonna cheer until we hear the final gun

I love college football. Autumn colors, crisp air, joyful crowds, fervent tail-gating, peppy bands, and noble competition on the gridiron among mostly-amateur student-athletes. But the main reason I love college football is this: If there were no college football, there would be no Iowa Hawkeyes college football team.

Being from Iowa, being a University of Iowa grad (stunning many of my high school teachers), and being from the same neighborhood that produced Kenny Ploen made it inevitable, and delightful, for me to love those Hawkeye football teams forever.

You might be asking yourself, who is Kenny Ploen? First, his last name is pronounced "Plane." (His first name is pronounced "Kenny.") Next, he was an All-American quarterback at Iowa. Finally, he quarterbacked us to our first victory in the Rose Bowl, 117-2, against Southern Cal (I might be fuzzy on the details, but we did beat someone from out west. Mark Twain said he had a perfect memory, even for things that didn't happen, and I kind of like that.)

I was a mere child at the time and, later, when I got to shake his hand and get his autograph at a church dinner, I was over the moon happy. And that cinched it.

I was hooked on the black and gold, and have remained there ever since. Living in South Carolina makes it difficult for me to get to Nile Kinnick Stadium in Iowa City, which is named after the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner, Nobel Prize winner in Literature, former Governor of Iowa, and concert pianist when he wasn't performing open heart surgery with a Swiss Army knife on the battlefields in France.

But I do have a satellite dish and a wide screen HD television. And I do get to watch their games from the comfort and convenience of my living room, where I wear my Iowa regalia and shout encouragement to my Hawks, even though Lisa reminds me that, "They can't hear you, John." And I can record the games to watch again and again.

This year begins on September 1st. In Chicago's Soldier Field. A new season. Another chance to go undefeated and unscored upon.

And if you listen carefully beginning at 3:30 Eastern Daylight Time, you just might be able to hear me shout "GO HAWKS!" They can hear it, and you can, too. It takes faith.

Mars Mock-Up and a Bloodied Babe

Now that it's been established that the glorious Mars landing by "Curiosity" has been exposed as another NASA hoax (remember the ones about men walking on the moon?) perpetrated by some miniature robots photographed in Death Valley, we can all get back to other things. Like the Olympics, which I no longer watch. Trampoline? Ping-pong? Kickball (soccer)? I'd rather watch reruns of "What Not To Wear."

Back to reality:  I promised a few pages from Chapter One from my novel, Signs of Struggle, and I hereby deliver them. Just enough to get you started. A synopsis and a bit from Chapter Two are available at the Neverland Publishing site. Publication date will be sometime next month. More on that later. For now, here's the start.

                                                                Chapter One                                  “No one ever told me grief felt so much like fear.”                                                                 - C. S. Lewis

     All I want is peace. All I want is to be left alone with the privacy and quiet that goes with it. So I gave myself the gift of a leisurely drive in the countryside. What could be more benign?      I needed time to recover from my Georgia-to-Iowa nonstop road trip and two days of fruitless house hunting in Rockbluff. I needed cheap therapy, and a late springtime wandering in the hill country seemed like a good idea. I thought it just might work better than counseling, pharmaceuticals, or maybe even a cold six-pack.       I had left America’s Best Bulldog, Gotcha, perched on her pillow back in the Rockbluff Motel, our home the last three days, and escaped into my country cruise. That’s all I wanted – a drive in the bucolic backcountry – something I’d often enjoyed before the move to Georgia. Something good, back when I had a family. Before the troubles came. Before a lot of things. So I took off, leaving Gotcha to catch up on her beauty sleep.      The May morning was glorious as I meandered down gravel roads, weaving through dense stands of hardwoods alternating with fields of fertile farmland. Thick pigs wallowed in fresh black mud, and grazing dairy and beef cattle concentrated on generating more butterfat and bigger briskets. Living industry; blood and breath.      I drove randomly for a while, serenity at every turn. But then, on a blind curve, I met a speeding, skidding, silver Corvette that nearly ran me off the road. I couldn’t blame the driver. Hard to improve on springtime and sports cars. I glanced in my rearview mirror and saw the ‘vette disappear into its dust cloud behind me.      I continued, rounding a gentle, deep-shadowed bend, and slowed to a stop to admire a mailbox seated squarely on a brick column. I had time. The surname “SODERSTROM” was calligraphied on the side of the mailbox in the midst of flashy cardinals, burly bluejays, and pink wild roses. Good Iowa name. Not many Soderstroms in south-central Georgia.      Just then, a movement in the shadows caught my eye. I glanced up into a tunnel of shade produced by the oak-lined lane leading away from the mailbox. And there she appeared, tall, blonde, and full-breasted, emerging quickly from the shadows. A sprinting screamer, bloody and berserk.      And her face? Fear and terror, and agony of some kind. Edvard Munch should have painted her instead of the sexless being in “The Scream.” He would’ve sold more t-shirts.      My highly-cultivated selfishness took over and I paused, wondering if I could escape and avoid whatever problem was pushing that woman toward me, closer and closer. It would be so easy. I wanted to leave, free of any duty, responsibility or moral compunction to help someone else in pain. Her problem, not mine.      My decision bounced around in my mind like lottery ping-pong balls waiting to be plucked. I froze. I muttered to myself, pounded my palms on the steering wheel. I knew I was going to do that which I did not want to do.      The woman loomed twenty yards away, fifteen, closing fast. Too late for my escape. Maybe I had let the decision be made for me by deliberate dawdling, linked together with its sluggish brother, procrastination.      I slammed the shift to park; killed the engine, stepped out of my pickup truck onto the gravel, pocketed my keys, my blood pressure in my ears, beating out a regular rhythm of “dumb ass, dumb ass, dumb ass.”  I looked up into the sky and silently asked,  What am I doing here? No answer. Imagine.      I was reminded of the poem by A.R. Ammons, “Coward,” herein completely recalled:  “Courage runs in my family.” I should have split.      The woman, lithe, long-legged, and swift, ran beautifully and with purpose, her footspeed driven by some revulsion back there, at the farm. She drew quickly to me, her bulging breasts fighting for freedom under her pale pink t-shirt. I took two steps toward her and then the woman, shrieking words I could not understand, a kind of gory glossalalia, smacked into me in an awkward embrace. I staggered back, repositioned my glasses, and simply held her, overcoming my urge, even then, to flee.      I wanted peace. Now this woman took it away, falling into my arms and covering me with blood and pulp, screaming words I finally understood: “Where are they!  Where are they!”      I shuddered, even in the growing heat of the day and with the warmth of her panting body pressed against me, almost enough to make me overlook the goop now pasted on my chest and arms.  The tormented expression on her face would have stopped my heart a few months ago. Not now.      I drew my head back and looked at her. The congealing bloodstuff smeared her arms, up to her elbows, and splattered on her tight t-shirt and light blue jeans. I pulled back my head a bit in distaste. I do not have the gift of mercy, unless it is directed toward myself.      She trembled through our grim embrace. I took her shoulders and pushed her to arms’ length and looked into her face to try to stop her panic, to give her a stable point of reference, her stunning green eyes wide and filled with fear, and comprehending more than I could understand. Her outstretched hands and forearms, slick with spilled life, reached out to me as she sobbed convulsively. Then she pulled me tightly to herself again and I said, “It’s okay.”      I am beyond stupid.