The Hunt for Publication

It takes a certain kind of guts to dive into waters full of teeth-baring sharks with a taste for blood. To dive back in for a second time after you’ve already been chewed up and spit out? Well, that’s just  masochism. You probably don’t have me figured for a masochist, but I do love to prove people wrong.

I’ve written about this before, but to recap: I full-on signed with a pretty terrific literary agent to represent Raised by a Dead Man, got the book in front of the very best editors at the very best publishing houses, and got so, so rejected.

Okay, I exaggerate. A little. I got some really lovely notes from some of those editors, a few of them even speaking with some passion for the story and the way I’d written it, noting things like the balance between humor and seriousness, the honest take on faith, and the self-deprecating voice. To have the book understood and appreciated at that level was its own reward, for sure. The negatives leveled against it had mostly to do with trying to figure out how to place the book within the marketplace, and the quality of writing being not quite what it should be.*

*This was all eight years ago. Having now given the book a full rewrite as a better and more experienced writer, I have to say I kind of get the criticisms about the writing. It wasn’t quite there.

So, to try again–to really start over at square one since my literary agent has long since moved on–is a daunting, punishing task. And I’m honestly just sidestepping the emotion of it all this time around. I have, as they say, become acquainted with grief.  Rejection and I are old friends by now. He stops by now and again, I let him in, he sits on my couch and downs a cold root beer, and then I see him on his way and promise my wife I’ll never let him in again. But, of course, I do.

Thankfully, I have my wife’s encouragement this time. She’s never stopped believing in this book, even when I did. If angels are real (and they totally are), they should take lessons from her. She’s a college professor; I bet it would be a pretty good class.

So, the hunt for publication has begun once again. The way it works is, you send out what are called “query” letters to potential agents, along with sample chapters and whatever else their guidelines ask for. The letter is designed to interest them in you and your book and make you both sound like the hottest thing since sliced bread was a hot new thing. (Egyptian times? I dunno.) It’s a piece of advertising, really, written by the author, i.e. a person who isn’t used to writing that sort of self-aggrandizing thing. Thankfully, I’ve gotten more comfortable with that part of the job in the intervening years.

I’m a little older, a little wiser this time around. For all the rejection I’ve received over my creative life, I’ve also experienced the incredible highs of acceptance. Some that are well known, some I can’t talk about yet. I pretty much roll with it either way and keep my expectations in check at this point. It’s healthier that way. I know that not trying is the only actual failure, and trying only to have failed is a step in the right direction (though maybe not towards the destination you thought you were heading).

As of this writing, The Other Side of Fear has been submitted to 7 new literary agents and has already received its first rejection! That deserves an exclamation point, believe me. Rejection is inevitable, and the first one means things are moving again. I’m excited.

I’ve also submitted the book to two smaller publishers. That’s a change from what I did eight years ago. Back then, I shot for the moon and only the moon. I still would like to hit the moon, but I don’t see failure in reaching the lower atmosphere anymore. I think TOSOF (as I needfully acronym it whenever I can) could find a good home at a smaller publisher. Or, at least, I want to be open that.

That’s what this is really about to me: being open to what the book needs to do and be. Because, years ago, I thought I knew. I thought I knew for sure. And I was wrong. But there’s one thing I’m still sure about: this books needs to exist and it needs to be out there.

I got an email on Sunday from Jean-David, a man in France I do not know who stumbled upon my comics a few weeks ago and then from there found the book chapters on this blog. He read them quickly, and then wrote me. Here’s part of what he said (quoted with permission):

I had read like the first three parts and was finding them beautifully written, with an earnest power of conviction and a show of faith that felt sincere yet non-ostentatious… I wanted to read this book to the end… [The rest of the book] lived up to the beginning. Again, it’s beautifully written, brave and bold but not overbearing, honest and true; it knows what to tell and how to tell it.

Jean-David then went on to tell me about a personal experience he’d had with losing some close friends, how reading the book helped him process some of the difficult thoughts and feelings he’s been dealing with ever since, and that the widow left behind by one of his friends happens to be able to read English. He asked my permission to share the book with her. Which I, of course, granted.

And that is why I’m trying again. Because I think there’s not only room in the world for a book like this, but there’s an actual need for it. I didn’t make up this story, it was given to me. And I feel a sense of responsibility about that. Jean-David is not alone in reinforcing that responsibility. There have been other, more private messages. People who have connected profoundly with my dad (and, I guess, me) and his story of simple faith, forgiveness, and steadfastness in times of trial.

One of the reasons this book failed to find publication the first time around is because it straddles the line between being a book for the faith crowd and being a book that can also appeal to the Barnes & Noble crowd. You’d think that would be a plus, but it turned out it wasn’t. The list of books put out by a publishing house is largely determined by what the marketing team thinks can sell, not by what an editor or publisher with vision wants to put out. Raised by a Dead Man occupied some nether space between audiences, so they didn’t know what do with it. With the rewrite and renaming to The Other Side of Fear*, I have admittedly tried to offer a bit of a corrective. Is it enough? I don’t know. I suppose I will find out.

*When I first wrote the book, I actually called it Bullets and M&M’s. Then, since no one liked that title, I changed it to Raised by a Dead Man. No one liked that title either, but by then they felt too sorry for me to say so. (Jerks.) For a little while, I called it A Suspicious Peace, but that was a title you literally have to couple with a yawn to get through, so it died a quick death. The book is now called The Other Side of Fear and consensus, finally, seems to be on my side. In total, that’s a 15 year journey. Maybe it was all for finally settling on the proper title so it can be properly appealing. Pretty long away around if you ask me.

Maybe you’d like to find out with me. I think I’d like to make this a more open process than I did the last time around. I want to write about the highs and lows of the road to publication for what I’m hoping will be my third book.* Some things I will not be able to share (like the specific responses of agents and editors) out of a sense of propriety on my part, but where I can or have permission (like with Jean-David), I will.

*My first other books are a YA novel called Paper Bag Mask and SuperFogeys Vol. 1: Inaction Heroes, a graphic novel. The stories of how those came about you can find elsewhere.

It’s a heckuva process. It took me a full year to secure a literary agent for Raised By a Dead Man. Will The Other Side of Fear take as long? Gosh, I hope not, but I’ve also made peace with the idea it may not find an agent at all. I figure that’s a much healthier place to be in, right? Let’s see how this goes, together.

Photo by Laura College on Unsplash

RBDM: Table of Contents (Limited Time Only)

UPDATED: The blogs containing the chapters have been removed, as promised, so the links below will not work. I leave this post up to preserve the reason for the removal at the end of it, and also for those curious about the book itself. Hopefully, I’ll bring the whole thing to you again one day, bright and shiny and new.

ORIGINAL POST:Below is a table of contents for all the chapters. If you haven’t finished yet, you should be able to find where you left off and pick it back up. I’ll leave all the chapters up for another week or so, but after that I think it’s better to take them down, including this post. If you’ve been reading along, I’d love to hear from you. Even if it’s just a “hi.” I miss contact with the world!

RBDM TABLE OF CONTENTS

Prologue – Ready: The funeral is over and it’s time to go to the cemetery, but before we get there my mother has a striking revelation to share.

I.

Ch. 1 – Shooting: Eight years earlier, two men burst into my father’s store and immediately begin shooting.

Ch. 2 – The Call: Alone and dying, my father desperately dials 911 to get some help.

Ch. 3 – Bullets: While my brothers and I dance in the living room, oblivious, my mother receives a mysterious phone call telling her to get to the hospital immediately. 

Ch. 4 – M&M’s: At the hospital, Mom crumbles and I get a whole bag of M&M’s all to myself.

Ch. 5 – Educated Guesses: My father is in critical condition and no one–not even the doctors–know if he’s going to survive. But I do.

Ch. 6 – Playing the Part: While dad struggles in the hospital, I head back to school to enjoy all the attention thrown my way.

Ch. 7 – A Suspicious Peace: Dad returns home from the hospital and I become a bullet wound cleaning expert.

Ch. 8 – Superdad: Months later, Dad is unstoppable, coaching little league, attending Sixth Grade Camp with me, and running down a guy who steals from him.

II.

Ch. 9 – The Wrong Side of Town: On the night before 7th Grade begins, a FBI sting operation gone wrong in our neighborhood prompts Dad to grab his gun and head out on his own to track the criminals down. 

Ch. 10 – A Friend in Need: When helping one friend comes at the expense of my relationship with another, I’m at a loss for what to do.

Ch. 11 – Fight: A friend turned enemy wants nothing more than to beat me to a bloody pulp. A school yard confrontation leads to big changes.

Ch. 12 – Hollywood: A reality show comes calling and Dad leaps at the chance to reenact his shooting for national television.

Ch. 13 – Talking to a Dead Man: The shooting reenactment airs on television and my eyes are opened to what Dad really went through in a whole new way.

Ch. 14 – Edited for Television: Dad’s rush to the hospital is depicted, and he talks about the shooting and what he was really afraid of in his own words.

Ch. 15 – How It Ends: How Dad knew he was going die young. Plus: The reenactment concludes with my national (embarrassing) debut.

III.

Ch. 16 – The Nerd Herd: A move across town means a new school and new friends. 

Ch. 17 – Breaching Brute Protocol: High School begins and I’m determined to make a new start, but the four bullies picking on me at once have other ideas.

Ch. 18 – Good Intentions: Sick of all the misinformation out there about my church, I’m determined to go to a friend’s church and correct her pastor. My parents have other ideas.

Ch. 19 – Sitting On a Chair with Wheels: Is God real? Is my church true? I honestly don’t know and it’s tearing me up inside. A caustic confrontation leads to Dad trying to talk me down.

Ch. 20 – Flood: Holed up in a church building late at night, my friends and I have no idea our entire town is flooding, threatening to trap us.

Ch. 21 – The Last Time: I finally get the answers I’ve been searching for, just in time for Dad and I to make peace and go on a road trip together.

IV.

Ch. 22 – Speaking in Tongues: My life as a missionary begins, but there’s a catch: I have to speak Spanish. I hate Spanish.

Ch. 23 – Bad News: Ten months into my mission, I receive a phone call from my grandfather with news I do not want. 

Ch. 24 – Faithless Prayers: While waiting for confirmation that I what I know in my gut is true, I pray.

Ch. 25 – Worse Than Death: How my father died and the devastating first few moments after I found out. 

Ch. 26 – To The Lord: The Mission President and his wife come to visit and console me. I’ve got a big decision to make about what to do next.

Ch. 27 – Being a Human Being: It’s the morning after and I want nothing more than to do the missionary work I’m supposed to do. But are my motives less than pure?

Ch. 28 – In the Absence of Kneeling Dragons: I return home from my mission many months early to a very different world.

Ch. 29 – The Shoulders: The house has been overrun with mourners, and I doubt very much all of them are there for the right reasons.

Ch. 30 – Speaker for the Dead: Mom has asked me to speak at Dad’s funeral, but I have no idea what to say. A forgotten recording reveals Dad’s feelings about the shooting in his own words and confuses me further as I wrestle with his contradictions.

Ch. 31 – The Eyes of a Dead Man: The day of the funeral has arrived and it’s my turn to speak.

Ch. 32 – Grounded: It’s Thanksgiving Day and I’m home. Should I stay home and not return to the mission?

Ch. 33 – Life After Death: It’s been a long week. Two moments stand out in particular, putting everything else into perspective.

Epilogue: Decades have passed. What happened to me? To my family? What’s the takeaway?

Why take it all down? Because:

I’m just going to do it. At the encouragement of my wife and a few of you, I’m changing the name of the book to The Other Side of Fear and I’m shopping it out…again. After 7 years.

RBDM CH 33E copy

The funny thing is that The Other Side of Fear is SUCH a better title and I don’t know why I never thought of it. That’s really what the book is about: what is on the other side of the worst thing thing you can imagine happening? This is such a theme in my life (and I’m sure many others). I have faced down my worst fears many times–literally the worst things I could think of–and you know what’s on other side of that? Peace. Quite honestly, it’s peace. The worst thing is never so bad as you imagine it to be, and you can never anticipate the ways you will grow and learn and change from those awful happenings. Calamity is how God operates on us. It’s how He fixes us into who we should be (but only if we allow it). And that’s a good thing. That’s what’s on the other side of fear: good things.

Maybe the syncing up of all this with the coronavirus is nothing, but it feels oddly right and clarifying. I’ve been in the house for two solid weeks now, and despite the occasional passing panic when I give into the temptation, I don’t really have any trouble centering myself. There’s a great freedom in knowing the universe will you up at any given moment and that you can take that beating and emerge victorious.

So, into the world this book goes once more. Maybe it will find a home, or maybe it won’t and I’ll get beat up again. Whatever happens, I’ve certainly got enough time on my hands to find out.

Never Give Up (Unless You Should)

Mike Wazowski
One of the best and most underrated Pixar movies is Monsters University. Though it’s often damned for leaving no cinematic college cliche stone unturned, it’s filled with solid jokes (“I can’t go back to jail!”) and features a subtle, devastating lesson that would be daring even if it wasn’t in a kids movie. But it is in a kids’ movie. And it’s amazing.
SPOILERS if you haven’t seen M.U.: Mike Wazowski is a young monster whose dream is to be, like his heroes, a scarer. The problem is that he is not scary. He’s funny and cute. Doesn’t matter that he’s the smartest and hardest working in class, he’s just never going to be able to achieve his dream because he’s not built for it. The point of this movie–the actual lesson at the end of all of Mike’s striving and years of dreaming–is that he has to give up his dream and move onto something else.
Now, I’m a dad so I feel like I can say this with confidence: giving up your dream is the literal opposite point of 98% of every other piece of kids’ entertainment out there. Usually, our kids are taught to NEVER give up. Keep going. Keep striving. Live your dream because dreams come true if you want it bad enough and put in the work.
We are told to dream big and never give up.
I’ve thought a lot about giving up . I think more than failure, I’m afraid of being like Mike Wazowski and being guilty of kidding myself. I’m afraid of people looking at me like, “Man, if only somebody would tell him it’s not gonna happen.” I’m afraid of failing and never stopping.
I know all the inspirational quotes about how the most successful people have also failed the most–Thomas Edison’s perspiration and all that. I’m not talking about sweaty Tommy Edison. I’m talking about all the other guys who also thought candles were old news that you don’t know about because lights belong in bulbs, not pineapples (or whatever they tried). I’m talking about all the guys (and gals) whose failures led to nothing.
* * *
I had no idea I enjoyed writing until I wrote my first blog at 28 years old. Five years later I wrote a memoir called Raised By a Dead Man: A Coming-of-Age Story Between Two Shootings about my relationship with my father and the two armed robberies at his store. I sent dozens of letters out to agents over a period of 9 months, received many, many rejections, and finally was fortunate enough to sign with a literary agent who believed in me. She was everything I wanted in an agent: attentive, smart, and had connections to all the best publishing houses. Mine was only the second book she ever pulled off the slush pile and chose to represent. Mine was also the first book she never sold. Raised By a Dead Man went to the top–to gatekeeping editors in big, fancy New York offices who repped Pulitzer Prize-winning authors and sucked down $500 scotch all day (I assume)–and they all rejected it. Some thought the writing not good enough (and they weren’t wrong–I’m much better now), but others raved about it. The big problem? They didn’t know how to sell it.
My agent, still believing in me, asked if I had any other ideas. I told her about another memoir I wanted to do, The Impossible Girl, a romance I pitched as a Romeo and Juliet story between a Mormon and a Protestant. She thought that sounded amazing and encouraged me to write it because it sounded more marketable. If I could sell it, then Raised would be more viable coming from an established author. I spent three long years writing the book and promptly handed it off to my agent once I felt it was worthy. She read it, was enthusiastic about my growth as a writer, and found the story fascinating. Also, it wasn’t quite what she was expecting. She had no idea how to sell it and didn’t see how it could possibly fit in any market, national or religious. I understood and set off to NOT write a wholly unique story no one wants to sell. Forget memoirs, I was gonna write a novel.
So, I wrote Paper Bag Mask, a YA  heist story that’s a bit like The Breakfast Club by way of Ocean’s 11. Seemed like the kind of story that would be pretty accessible and fun. When I brought it to my agent, she had to pass simply because she does not represent YA. I understood, we parted ways amicably, and I headed back to the trenches of emailing and querying potential agents. By then, 9 years had passed since I first decided to be an author.
14 months ago, the rejections began pouring in again. A couple of times, I got really close! There were agents who were incredibly enthusiastic about what I had done and the unique way I’d done it (three sections of the book feature sequential art)! But still I received no after no after no. Over 200 of them by the time I was ready to give it all up. Over 200 rejections on top of the (now) 10 years of rejection I’d already received.
I had to face facts: was I kidding myself? How long do you hold onto a dream before you realize it’s just not going to happen?
* * *
The most nuanced part of the lesson in Monsters University is this: our dreams should be focused on the things we can do. While it’s true that it’s possible to get really good at something (or luck into something) that you’re terrible at, it’s also true that we all have to face this one reality: we cannot be good at everything. It’s just not possible. So, if you can’t be good at everything, then you’ve got to get to terms with this other truth: the thing you want to be good at may not be the thing you CAN be good at. Anyone who has ever seen an episode of American Idol should be able to acknowledge this, but somehow people who can’t not sound like my garbage disposal keep coming back to audition anyway.
And, like the good-for-television-but-not-good-for-my-ears “singers” on American Idol, it’s possible there are people in your life who secretly think you should give up, but are afraid to tell you. Or, your own insecurity invents those people and you doubt yourself. Or, they are actually people in your life who tell you you’re terrible. Or, like me, failure after failure after failure has you doubting yourself. However you’re arriving at the secret suspicion that maybe you should stop dreaming so gosh darn big, the question comes down to the same thing: should you give up?
I don’t know. How could I? But you know who I think does know?
You.
The difference between failures that serve as track being laid down on the path of success and fooling yourself is in how honest with yourself you can be. It’s in your gut, in your soul. I believe we all know who who are and what are our capabilities. I’m not saying you know straight off, but it is discoverable. And when we make that discovery, that’s when either we back off that dream we’ve been holding onto, or we go all in. But knowing the either/or on that is entirely up to your capacity for self-awareness and truth. It’s not up to other people to confirm or deny it for us*, it’s up to us to discover and commit. One way or the other.
*Though they will try and they should not be dismissed out of hand–critique and feedback is part of the process of discovery.
How honest are you with yourself? And I don’t mean that in the way you’re prone to thinking about honesty, which is are you honest enough to know if you well and truly suck?  That’s only one side of it. The other side is being honest enough to say, “No, actually, I’m really good at this.” I don’t know about you, but that’s almost harder. It’s taken me a long time to get to a place where I’m comfortable enough to say with confidence, “I’m good at this, the world be damned.
I’ve know for awhile now I was going to be a writer. I didn’t know that was who I was until well after college, but it is who I am. I may have hard times and times of doubt and people telling me I suck, but deep in my gut, that’s what I know. I know that I not only love writing, but that I can do it. It’s not arrogance, it’s not fooling myself, it just is.
Paper Bag Mask will be published this Fall by Pen Name Publishing. Those 10 years–all that striving and failure–brought me to this major, major milestone. There will be more. My path to success is not complete, but I cannot help but be grateful and acknowledge that all my failures led to this successThere are many things I’m not good at, but:
I’m good at this. The world be damned.

BIG NEWS! Publishing Contract Signed!

Hey, it’s my author photo! (Yes, I like hats.)

Hey everybody, just wanted to share a quick bit of good news with you all… I just signed on the dotted line to have my first novel debut this Fall! It’s called Paper Bag Mask and I like to describe it as Ocean’s 11 with a heavy dose of John Hughes High School Movie (The Breakfast ClubFerris Bueller’s Day Off, etc.) You know I’ve been striving towards publication for several years now, and if you enjoy my writing (i.e. twisty plots, quirky characters, emotional resonance, fair bit of humor) I think you’ll find a lot to love in Paper Bag Mask.

The best part? I got away with injecting three sequential art sections into the narrative and the publisher is all for it! Trust me, they fit and they’re the best way to tell that particular part of the story. I can’t wait for you guys to see some of it! More soon…

Update on the New Job (Plus, “The Shooting”)

Things have a been a little crazy lately.

Now that I’m all in at Tremendum, I’m seeing what it is to fully dedicate myself to those things I enjoy and I’m best at. And I love it.

Last week, we headed down to Hollywood for a small screening of The Gallows and to work on sound design. I was more in tagalong mode as I learn more about the process, but I was able to offer some input here and there. I’ve never been to a test screening and I found the entire process completely fascinating, especially the conversation afterwards with the focus group and the studio heads. There’s far, far more that goes into the creation of every single second of a movie than you could even guess at.

After the test screening. From L-R: 'Gallows' Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.
After the test screening. From L-R: ‘Gallows’ Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

Most of my work at the moment for Tremendum is in developing and writing a post-Gallows project. More on that when I can share it, but I hit a real milestone this week by finishing a first draft. I didn’t expect to get it done as quickly as I have, but I guess I’ve got the fire in me right now.

In an odd way, moving so completely forward and quickly on a new project has caused me to reflect on old projects, particularly one I put away years ago.

Raised by a Dead Man: A Coming of Age Story Between Two Shootings is the first memoir I wrote and the one that allowed me to form a relationship with my literary agent, Bonnie Solow. For a variety of reasons, few having to do with the quality of the story or even the way I wrote it, it didn’t sell. But it’s still a book and a story I feel passionate about. I’ve already posted the prologue on this site, but, just for kicks, this week I’m going to serialize the first few chapters of RBDM.

I welcome your feedback. If response is good, maybe I’ll post more than a few chapters. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Here we go. The following is a true story:

* * *

Chapter One

Shooting

No one makes a living retailing junk food. Not one good enough to support a wife and four sons, anyway. The guns were what fed us. The bullets and the barrels sold right alongside the soda bottles and the Slim Jims put food on the table and gave us a home. Us, and Dad’s employees—both of whom had gone home early that night from the dirty little shop on the outskirts of Fresno. Bill’s Bait and Tackle closed at 5:00pm. Dad was alone for everything that happened afterwards.

A small business owner never clocks out. Not really. Once home, Dad could look forward to adding receipts and counting money long into the night. Might take even longer if his sons bristled once again at helping him or, even better, tempted him into a rubber band war. Closing time wasn’t particularly restful, but it didn’t require him to be a husband or a handy man or a father or a disciplinarian. All he had to do between the flipping of the “CLOSED” sign and the pulling of the car into his driveway—which probably needed to be cleared of bikes and toys—was to perform the routine.

Close out the register. Lock the freezer. Put away the inventory. Shut off the lights and secure the store with deadbolt and lock on the way out.

It took Dad a good fifteen minutes to pack up the dozens guns by himself. They were housed in two display cases doubling as the store’s front counters; Now and Laters and trucker hats making a pit stop on top of the .45’s and Thirty Ought Sixes on their way out the door. Dangling yellow tags attached to the guns on tiny, white strings shouted the sale price from behind the clean, always clear glass.

Dad removed the guns quickly, one by one, and placed them with great care into two long, black, clam shell cases for storage during the night. This was the puzzle to which only he had the picture. Without markers or leftover impressions on the foam pad lining the inside, he still knew the precise placement of each handgun and rifle inside their carriages. Once packed, he would transport the guns into the iron safe in the storage room just behind the freezers.

It was something Dad did night after night with little incident—with the exception of that night. On that night, he never made it to the safe.

Neither did the guns.

The two men kicked in the front door with a shout.

“YOU’RE DEAD, SUCKER!”

Their semi-automatics lit up only fifteen feet away from the fat man behind the counter, ejecting bullet after bullet directly at him. The first bullet rocketed towards Dad’s chest, but missed. The next went straight into his stomach, forcing him to double over from the impact. Not from the pain. That hadn’t registered yet.

Dad made a grab for his own gun stuck between the waistband of his pants and his hip. He got the weapon up and out, but didn’t have enough time to do anything productive with it as more bullets tore with great speed through his muscle and flesh, his body jerking with the impact of each one as it burst into him. His gun fell to the floor as he did, with a thud behind the open, sliding wooden doors of the display cases still filled with all the firearms he hadn’t had a chance to pack up yet.

The glass on the front of the cases exploded into twinkling, falling stars as the two men fired into them. Quickly, one of them collected the store’s most valuable merchandise into a bag while the other shooter fired even more bullets, this time at point-blank range, up and down my father’s body as he lay on the floor. Satisfied the store’s owner could not survive such a barrage, the men worked together to gather up the rest of their spoils as quickly as possible. When they were done, the only thing left on the carpeted shelves lining the now-broken cases was broken glass.

Dad, his pants and shirt already soaked red, had just enough of his wits remaining to grab his gun up off the floor to fight back. On his back and without much mobility, his mind ignored the swell of intense pain in his lower body while his hand searched, doing its best to find his metal piece before the shooters saw what he was doing. Frantic and fading, he grabbed one of the display guns that had fallen out of the cases instead. The yellow tag dangled.

click.

Display guns are never loaded.

The shooters gave Dad’s body one last sweep of bullets. His body jerked up and down on the hard, uncaring floor of the store. More blood exited from fresh wounds to make room for their hot new guests. Some bullets exited just as quickly as they entered. Others dug into Dad’s flesh and took residence.

Finally, the shooting stopped. Dad went still.

The two men, with bags full of black treasures, turned around and left in a hurry, slamming the door behind them.

* * *

Next: “The Call”

Days 64 – 139: Here’s Everything That Happened While I Was Out

I have no idea why we're making these faces, but this is me and Erin.
I have no idea why we’re making these faces, but this is me and Erin.

I think it’s time to come back.

How much does an unfinished story suck? I know I hate it. I didn’t intend to leave everyone hanging for so long, but as the responsibilities started piling up–most especially as I finished Worlds Apart in an effort to get it off to my agent–it got easier and easier to not blog. Sure, I jotted down blog notes every couple days and saved them as drafts, but you don’t want to read notes. Notes are boring. Notes are incomplete. Notes lack flavor. Pizazz.

Those notes were supposed to be used to resume the story of our double unemployment from where I left off, and then I was just going to continue it forward with blog after blog after blog.

I’m not going to do that.

What I am going to do instead is fill you in on everything that’s happened since I stopped updating in one go, right here. But first, let’s talk about why I stopped updating in the first place.

The truth is, the constant pressure of chronicling our double unemployment journey every day was not an issue in the beginning when everything was new and different, but as time wore on it all got to be repetitive and I had to drag the blogs out of me kicking and screaming. And biting. Some blogs bit hard because they were wild and not house trained and peed on me.

The point is, unemployment is not exciting. (Who knew?) It’s deadly boring and sad. It’s just sad. I can’t even make a joke about it without making people feel uncomfortable and sorry for us. And if I can’t joke, am I really even alive? Do I even feel? Do I breathe? Do I exist?

Well, let me tell you, according the employers of the world, no, I do not exist.

ba-dum bum.

See? Not funny.

Let’s do this. Let’s break out the bullet points (because everyone loves bullet points, right?) and run down everything that’s happened since October 31st, 2014 (holy crud) in one go. Ready? Read:

• I went on two different dates with two different women in one day. In the afternon, I ate seafood with my daughter Cami, and in the evening I went to dinner and a movie (St. Vincent with Bill Murray–great movie!) with Erin.

I admit it, I'll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.
I admit it, I’ll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.

• Erin got bold and contacted an acquaintance who is also a Pharmaceutical Rep about how to break into his industry. He is now mentoring her because the blessings are kind of nonstop like that.

• While watching the Marvel 75th Anniversary television special on ABC, I noticed a piece of art created by my SuperFogeys cohort Marc Lapierre was featured prominently and by mistake. I contacted the comics media and the story soon went viral, resulting in Marc actually getting compensated for his work! It was awesome. You can read the whole story here.

• Cami started SCREECHING whenever she feels joy. The screeching makes me feel anger, so, one day, I yelled at her. I am a horrible person.

• I FINALLY heard back about the job in San Francisco. They decided to halt the hiring process. That was a tough day.

• Erin explored selling life insurance. Decided definitively that it was not for her because you actually have to pay money to start. There’s some legal rigamarole that explains why that is, but I’ll skip to the conclusion: it’s stupid.

• Saw Big Hero 6 with the family. Cami made it through 60 seconds before melting down. She and I spent the rest of the movie in the lobby. Movie theaters used to be one of her favorite places so this was tragic on a level I can’t even explain.

I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn't guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.
I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn’t guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.

• I got a real solid lead on a job with a local school district. I applied, they decided a month later that I, as someone who does not have classroom experience, am not qualified for a job that does not require me to teach in a classroom. (Can you hear the heavy sigh?)

• Cami got whooping cough despite having been vaccinated against it. Then she got pneumonia. Her body is getting weaker and her doctor advised us to keep her away from kids who have not been vaccinated whenever possible. This is almost entirely impossible. I’m so glad people love polio so much.

• After reaching a peak place where the stress of unemployment was wearing on us to the point that Erin and I were arguing and angry at each other every day, we fell off that cliff and arrived a sort of serene, peaceful place together. Stress gets to us like it does everyone else, but if I could identify one of the true strengths of our marriage it’s that we always, always, always pull together when it counts. Also, it helps when I finally clean the fan blades and bring her flowers.

• Wrote a blog entitled “Perfect Attendance Awards are an Abomination” and never published it.

• Suffered from insomnia. A lot.

• Finished Worlds Apart and gave it to Erin to read. She had many notes, which is fair since she’s a main character. Made many revisions.

• Batman, one of our two dogs, snuck into Cami’s room during her whooping cough fits and insisted on sleeping next to her for several nights until she was through the worst of it.

Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.
Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.

• Erin got a call to come interview with another local company and it went EXTREMELY well. Almost two months later and they still haven’t hired for the position, but we still hold out hope.

• I spent Thanksgiving sick out of my mind, away from family, and watching special features on a Hobbit Blu-ray all day long. (I’m entering the preceding sentence in a “Saddest Story Ever” contest.)

Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.
Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.

• (No, I’m not.)

• The group I’m in charge of at church put on a very successful Turkey Bowl activity at which I played football for the first time in 15 years. I was… not very good.

• Erin and I attended a combo Hmong/Protestant wedding. Besides how lovely the couple and the ceremony were, the MC, who also acted as translator for the evening, was the best. Actual quote: “Now we will have the speech from the Best Man. It is called the Best Man Speech.”

• Erin got sick. A lot.

• Broke a handle on my car.

• Left the garage door open one night by accident. Thieves stole our GPS, a scooter, and all of the personal items I packed up on my last day at the job (including hundreds of dollars worth of comics).

• Wrote a blog entitled “Dear Future Employer” to address the people who say this blog is a bad idea. Posted it for 60 seconds before getting a sick feeling in my stomach and pulling it down. Not sure why. The one person who managed to read it was very complimentary.

• I was drafted to create a slideshow video of photos and home movies from families at church for the Ward Christmas Party. I did, I think, a pretty decent job on it.

• The additional time spent at home means I have grown immeasurably closer to our youngest, Violet. That may be worth all the unemployment trouble by itself. For example, one morning we just took her to the zoo. Because we could.

Erin and Violet at the zoo.
Erin and Violet at the zoo.

• Erin and Elora presented together at EPU, a local group that helps families with young children with special needs. Elora, 12, who talked about her experiences as Cami’s sister, is the youngest person to ever present for EPU (she presented when she was 10).

• Erin and I both had occasional, what-the-crud-has-happened-to-our-lives freakouts.

Tremendum Pictures, a locally based film and video production company with a movie, The Gallows, coming out this summer from New Line Cinema, asked to meet with me. They are looking to grow and want me to come on board.  They’re small right now, but… yes, please. Not a job, per se, but lots of potential. Going full steam ahead with them for as long as I can. Doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s promising.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.23.10 PM

• Erin and I went up to the Portland/Vancouver area to visit my brothers, McKay and Tyler, and their wives, McKenna and Karen. It was wonderful to get away from the stress and worry and complication of our normal lives for a little while.

• McKay and McKenna asked me to read them chapters of Worlds Apart out loud. I happily obliged. The instant gratification of their laughter and guffaws was exhilarating. I get why stage actors do it.

• I spent an afternoon at Powell’s Books in Portland just writing on my laptop. I now have my very own Hipster badge.

• While were were in Vancouver/Portland, every single one of our leads for paying jobs dried up. Four months in, we went back to square one.

• Our oldest, Elora, got her braces off. Suddenly, she’s ten years older.

Freaky, normal teeth.
Freaky, normal teeth.

• Just before Christmas, we were blessed by kind people and their giving hearts.

• Missed the Family Christmas Eve Party because some of the kids attending were not vaccinated. I was bummed, but having Cami has always required sacrifices. We make them gladly.

• Found out a close friend also lost his job. Great, now we’re contagious.

• Erin’s parents took us all to Disneyland, an annual tradition ever since a trip we took years ago during which Cami came alive in a whole new way. The past couple of years have been rough for Cami as she’s developed an aversion to large crowds and dark places, but we stumbled on a solution when we gave her a toy to fidget with and she found her happy place. I had a much more difficult time enjoying myself. Couldn’t help walking around the park and feeling like an outsider as I considered the employed state of everyone around me.

• Post Christmas, peace reigned. A disturbing amount of peace. Peace, despite still-present moments of freaking out, became our overriding state of being.

• Sent Worlds Apart out to beta readers, along with a link to an online survey to facilitate their feedback. This was the right move. Most of the 10 readers read it within 24 hours of starting it. It’s a heartwarming, romantic comedy page-turner with lots of tension and suspense, which is awesome.

• Took Cami to see Annie in the movie theater, risking another meltdown. This time, I took the fidget toy we bought in Disneyland and that did the trick. Cami friggin’ loved the music.

This is such a strange movie. I don't know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.
This is such a strange movie. I don’t know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.

• Rang in the New Year up in Bass Lake with friends and board games, just like last year. We would happily continue this tradition for years to come. This year has to be better than last, right?

Erin with her go-to New Year's drink--Martinelli's apple cider. Accept no substitutes.
Erin with her go-to New Year’s drink–Martinelli’s apple cider. Accept no substitutes.

• Met with a client with Tremendum for the first time to formulate ideas for a marketing video. I’m going to have a blast with these guys. If I can turn this into my job then everything that’s happened will suddenly make a whole lot of sense to me.

• Cami’s body might be betraying her. A bone density scan shows that her bones are soft and, fearing that her body’s small size might mean bad things internally, we went up to San Francisco to meet with her neurologist. She allayed our fears for the most part (the size of her organs compared to her frame–the biggest potential problem–is really only an issue if she isn’t mobile), but we still need to meet with endocrinologists to determine what’s really going on. This is our constant roller coaster with Cami. There’s no real diagnosis for her issues and we have no real idea of how long we can expect her to be with us. So we enjoy what we can, which this time included walking through Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 with her and watching the sea lions.

Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.
Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.

• Sent Worlds Apart to my agent. She burned through it quickly, just like the beta readers, and loved it. Now we’ve gotta find the right publisher. It’s an unusual book that doesn’t end in the way I think most readers will expect. Is that a good thing? Bad thing? We’ll see.

• Erin figured out that, above all, this is a trial of patience. I can’t disagree with that.

Annnnnnd you’re all caught up. This info dump brought to you by: my guilt. Now that I’ve done away with all those blogs I didn’t write, I’m free to do things a bit differently.

No more “Day This” and “Day That.” That’s done. The unemployment continues, but I think from this point forward I’ll be a much better blogger if I just write about what’s happening, not when it’s happening. Topics and events, not days. It will free me up quite a bit and hopefully prove more interesting for all of you. How does that sound?

Thanks for sticking with me this long. Always nice to know people are out there who care. Let’s see how this all ends together.