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MFA in Writing at Vermont College

Saturday, July 28, 2012

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

Am I a writer?

Merriam Webster simply defines a writer as, “one who writes.” 

Am I a writer!

I sit at my desk every evening tapping away at the keyboard.  That must make me a full-fledged writer!

But wait…

Dictionary.com defines a writer as, “a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession.”

Now what does that mean?  Especially as an occupation or profession?  I certainly don’t make money from my writing.  Forget supporting myself as a writer, I can’t even afford an ice cream cone from my writing income. 

But that word especially is a bit of a disclaimer isn’t it.  Does a person need to get paid for his or her work to be a writer?  How much money exactly do they need to make from writing for it to be considered a profession? Does a person need to be published to be a writer? 

Much like a tree falling in the forest… if no one reads my stories are they really stories? 

Am I a writer? 

Sure, I tap away every evening on my computer creating characters and plot lines but no one ever reads them.  Okay, okay, sure my wife reads them.  My writing group reads them.  And hopefully they make their way out of a slush pile and an agent or publisher reads them before sending back my rejection slip.  But after a while they simply go into a file on my computer and I start over with something new. 

Am I a writer?

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Either write something worth reading, or do things worth writing.” 

Wow!  Can you imagine being in a critique group with this guy.  Talk about pressure.  But he begs the question, if you don’t write something worth reading are you truly a writer?

Am I a writer?

Am I a writer?

Am I a writer?

Ernest Hemingway said, “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

Well maybe I am a writer after all!

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Broken Suitcases

I hate it when my suitcase breaks!

As a business traveler I pride myself on not looking wrinkled and disheveled while carrying heavy bags through the terminal.  I avoid long lines by constantly scoping out the TSA path, careful not to get behind old people or strollers.  I never carry liquid in my carry on, never buy a belt with a metal latch and I only wear slip on shoes.  That is why I absolutely hate broken luggage. 

Yet, there I was on a recent trip to Brevard County, Florida hunched over, lugging my forty-five pound suitcase across the rental car parking lot because the handle on my suitcase would no longer work. 

It doesn’t take much to break a suitcase.  In fact, I go through at least two of them a year.  And the majority of the time it is the handle that does me in.  The handle slides up and down on two thin rails and all it takes is one heavy bag to come down just right and the track is bent and the roller won’t move.  I tried every tool available in a hotel room to fix the handle (yellow pages, coat hanger, bible, towels, and the flimsy room service menu). Nothing worked. 

The good news out of all of this is that as I was hammering on the rails with a Marriot pen it suddenly dawned on me what was wrong with my story.

My desire line was bent!

A character needs a clear desire line that smoothly moves all the way through the book much like the track on my suitcase.  If my desire line gets bent or moves off track in some way the story is not going to flow smoothly from beginning to end – and like my suitcase, the story will be broken.

So, I took my Marriot pen and outlined my character’s desires and needs on a tiny hotel pad of paper.  What I found was that I was off track.  I was writing scenes that were getting away from my desire line.  Thank goodness for broken luggage!

More good news… When I got home I saw that Kohls was having a sale on luggage… I wonder if I can buy a story while I am there as well!

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Burying Saints!

Two weeks ago we decided to put our house up for sale.  It has been a whirlwind ever since. 


Get an agent!

Clean the house!

Get storage unit!

Move excess household items to storage!

Meet with financial guy!

Clean the house again!

Open House!

Bury St. Joseph!

Wait… what… did that say bury St. Joseph?

That is correct; an old Catholic tradition states that when selling a home it is helpful to bury St. Joseph upside down, facing the street.   Once the sale is complete St. Joseph is dug up and displayed in a place of honor within the new home. 

Our house had not been on the market for no more than a few days when I received a package in the mail from my Aunt Laverne.  Inside was a statue of St. Joseph with burial and prayer instructions.  Thanks Aunt Laverne!

The very next day my wife and I dug a hole.

We gently buried St. Joseph upside down facing the street.


We said our prayers.

We expect an offer soon!

But while I am waiting for that offer I have decided to do a little research to see if there is a Patron Saint of Writers.  Guess what I found?

St. Francis de Sales!


That’s correct; St. Francis is the patron Saint of Writers.  

The story goes that St. Francis traveled through the mountains of Switzerland spreading the word of Catholicism.  However, Switzerland at the time was staunch Calvinists and refused to even open the door when St. Francis called.  So he took to writing them notes and sliding them under the door.  Soon he had converted 40,000 people to Catholicism and was appointed the Bishop of Geneva in 1602.

I have currently ordered every statue of St. Francis I can find on the internet.  I am tearing up the floorboards underneath my writing desk and plan to bury every single one of them face down directly underneath my computer.


Hey, I will take any help I can get!

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Chasing My Story

I went home yesterday to visit my mother for mother’s day.  It was warm, the sun was shining and my Dad had the lawn furniture out to enjoy.  It was the first real summer day of the year and I took advantage of the day.  Boy did I ever take advantage of the day.

You see my sister also brought my niece and nephews home for the day as well.  What could be better than an afternoon in the sun with my nephews!

We played baseball!

We played soccer!

We played in the sandbox!

We had running races around the house!

We played more baseball!

We went to the local park where I was a monster and had to chase them up and down the slide!

We rode scooters up and down the street!

We searched for ants!

We played tag!

We sat for a moment! Just a moment!

Grandma blew bubbles and we chased them across the yard!

We watched cartoons for about thirty seconds!

We ate ice cream!

And we played more baseball!

It was a really great two hours spent with my nephews.  Quality time I will always remember… because my lower back will remind me for years to come.

Today I sat down for a relaxing day of writing.  But I ended up chasing my story all afternoon.   My characters were constantly running away from me and I could not seem to catch up to them.  They were always one step ahead of me.  I am worn out! 

What is their motivation?  What do they want?  What do they need?

I asked all the questions but there was no answer.  My characters simply ran all over the page, never tiring, exhausting me in the process.  Not even an ice cream break would calm these characters down. 

Oh well… nothing a good night’s sleep can’t cure.  I will be back to chase them around tomorrow!

Sunday, April 15, 2012


I hate Tupperware! 

I want to start a petition to standardize all Tupperware containers.  I am serious.  They need to be of uniform size and shape and should stack neatly.  This morning I became so angry after drying dishes that I nearly tossed out every container we own. 

Why do they come in different sizes?  We have square, rectangle, circle and pizza slice shaped.  Do you know how hard it is to stack all of these?  Impossible!  Our cupboard reminds me of one of those cans where a snake pops out when you open it.  I never know what is going to fall out on me when I open that door. 

And where did they all come from?  I have never purchased a Tupperware container in my life but somehow I have a cupboard full of them.  Do they reproduce or what?  I mean I even have these tiny little Tupperware containers for salad dressing that look like the spawn of the soup bowl container and the salad container. 

There has to be a better way to go about storing my leftovers.  This current system is simply too jumbled and disorganized for me.

I was reminded of my morning Tupperware disaster this afternoon when I sat down to write the next chapter of my story.  What popped into my head was possibly the best writing advice I have ever given myself.  I decided I must share it with the world immediately.  Here is my brilliant realization:

Creating a story is like stacking Tupperware! 

I am serious… I have all these oddball characters and situations that I somehow have to organize together into a nice story.  At the moment I have a square main character that I am trying to have interact with his rectangle friend.  I have a funny side character that, much like the pizza slice shaped Tupperware container, doesn’t really fit with anything else in the cupboard.  I have a funny scene that I nearly forgot about because it has been stuffed in the back where I wasn’t able to get at it.  And I have a plot line that appears to be tumbling all over me.   

And where did all these subplots come from?   I mean I had a pretty simple story line to follow and all of a sudden I have more side characters and subplots than I know what to do with.  I think plot and theme have reproduced and created several little monsters!

Perhaps I can start a petition to end all subplots... or I could stop writing this blog and get down to organizing my cupboard! 

Monday, March 26, 2012


I apologize to all of my dedicated readers (Mom and Aunt Laverne).  I have not blogged in several weeks.  Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about you, I promise.   I have good reason for my absence. 

Reasons why I have not blogged:

·         I was robbed and someone stole the keyboard… seriously!

·         College Basketball is to be blamed.  How am I to get anything done in March with endless basketball games to watch!

·         We are currently packing up our house and we received these putrid smelling boxes from a friend.  I may have passed out for a few weeks from the fumes!

·         I had to drive to Iowa.  It is a long, boring state!

·         Homer went into cardiac arrest and needed to be revived!  It is not easy resuscitating a character.

·         There was a riot at work… seriously!

·         Several seventy-five degree days in Wisconsin… in March.  Need I say more!

·         I am trying to get back in shape.  Round is not the shape I am aiming for!

·         I had to drive to Minnesota.  It is also a long, boring state!

·         Louis Sachar called and said I don’t know what I’m talking about!

·         My wife’s birthday is in a week and I have had severe panic attacks as I have no idea what to get her.  Help!

·         I have been eagerly anticipating opening weekend of Hunger Games!

·         It took me four weeks to replace the headlight on my car… seriously!

·         I had to celebrate St. Norbert’s National Hockey Championship (sorry Peter, maybe next year)!

·         Oh… and I have been busy writing an ESSAY!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

My Childhood Told in Story

I read Dead End in Norvelt by Jack Gantos this week and need to discuss!

The protagonist of this book is a young Jack Gantos and it is part fiction, part memoir.  As I read this book I was intrigued by trying to figure out which parts were true and which ones were fictional.  I then started thinking about my own childhood and wondered if I would be able to write a book based on my life. Below is a list of ideas I came up with to start my novel.  It is up to you to figure out which ones are true. 

·         While the family gathered at my grandmother’s farm to slaughter chickens I started the tractor and rolled over the barbed wire fence and into the cow pasture.  The face of my grandmother's open mouth while holding a headless chicken will haunt me forever. 

·         I once ate a whole jar of pickles for an afternoon snack and later yacked in the sandbox. A sandbox is tough to clean.

·         I was so excited to finally go out for Pizza that I had diarrhea all over a Pizza Hut booth.  Dad cleaned me in the sink, flushed my clothes and carried me out to the car naked.  I kicked and screamed to go back inside while my brother followed carrying a to-go box and eating pizza.

·         On the way home from church I was run over by our neighbor’s Sheepdog and have been afraid of dogs ever since.

·         There is a hole in our garage door where my brother threw a baseball at me when I beat him in homerun derby.  Lucky for me he couldn’t throw a strike to save his life.

·         I always volunteered to mow the lawn… that way I could mow base paths and foul lines in our backyard.

·         I owned a large collection of Smurfs.

·         Graveyard Granny would keep any homerun ball that went over the cemetery fence. 

·         When Dad wasn’t looking I would slide across the hood and climb in the windows of the car like Luke Duke.

·         Was sent to the office during art class for drawing a beautiful picture of my 3rd grade teacher. It is not my fault she resembled the Wicked Witch of the West.

·         Was knocked out cold playing tackle football at recess in 5th grade.

·         Bumped into Joe DiMaggio in the concourse of a baseball game and spilled my soda all down his pant leg.

My mother recently told me to be careful with what I put in my blog because my aunts read this.  Hopefully they will still call me family after this entry! Sorry Mom.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Valentine's Day Message

Today, I send a Valentine to all the special girls who have touched my heart over the years.

Ramona Quimby
Any woman who can’t resist the urge to squeeze a tube of toothpaste into the sink has my heart forever.

Leslie Burke
A girl willing to take on the boys in a foot race makes my heart skip a beat every time.  My heart has never recovered from that fateful swing over the creek.

Harriet the Spy
A beautiful girl and a spy… my poor heart can’t take much more.

Nancy Drew
If it wasn’t for those darn Hardy Boys we could have had something special.

Pippi Longstocking
Had we been married, I would have taken your name… Jeff Longstocking has a nice ring.

Amelia Bedelia
A woman who bakes wonderful pies will always have a special place in my heart. 

Gilly Hopkins
My heart took a pounding from this tough chick.

No nerd has ever been more attractive.

I stand corrected… I take back the previous line.

Junie B. Jones
Who knew poor grammar could move my heart.

A girl who climbs trees and fights for justice… I never had a chance.

But none of these shine as bright as my one and only Valentine.

Happy Valentine’s Day Sweety!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

A blog about blog

Strange things keep me up at night.  No… I am not talking about the monster under the bed, the strange creaking from the other side of the house or my wife’s snoring.  I am talking about those bothersome questions that itch at your mind like a pestering fly. 

Last night’s fly was the word blog.  I mean what exactly does the word mean?  I have my name on a blog and I still don’t know the definition.  After a restless night sleep I did the only reasonable thing I could think of… I swatted that pestering flea by looking up the definition this morning. 

A blog (a blend of the term web log)

I didn’t see that one coming!

So a blog is like the Brangelina of the web.  Or maybe the Bennifer of the internet. 

I love words like this!  I mean who has time to say all the words when you can just blend them together.  Instead of telling someone how obnoxious their fake house plants are I can simply say, “Dude, ugly flants!”  How easy was that? 

So in honor of the word blog I have decided to smush words together to make one.  Here is my list:

Those people who speak like a text.  OMG I am so LOL right now!

People who drive and talk on their cell phone

That’s me and my wifeJ Hi Honey!

Shampoo and Conditioner in the same convenient bottle!

All that irritating gunk I find in my library books (See previous blog!)

My hairstyle at the moment.  Half bald-Half hair. All Bair!

Those huge oversized chairs that can seat an entire family.

Can you say back hair?  That guy is soooo Bairy!

For when the word Cell Phone takes too long to utter. Would you answer your clone!

Vegetable Pizza just doesn’t flow off the tongue as well. 

My swivel chair at work! I swear by my swair.

The stress I am feeling right about now about writing this critical essay

I can’t wait to tell people to read my blog about smurds!

I will leave you to figure that one out.