Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Sweet Taste of Victory

This just may be my all-time favorite failblog post.

fail owned <span class=pwned pictures" title="fail-owned-carnivore-win" class="mine_4504247" width="500" height="272">
see more Fail Blog

And keeping with today's theme, here is a shot of the shirts worn by employees of Rudy's Bar-B-Q.

Rudy's is a Texas based chain and if you ever go to one, try the smoked turkey.

Tomorrow my weight loss bet ends. As of typing this I've lost 24 pounds since making the wager back on April 15th. I hope to lose one more before tomorrow's weigh-in and make it an even 25. I'd like to think I'll keep this weight off, but I've missed many of my old friends chocolate donuts, Dr. Pepper, Rum. Especially the rum.

I never made the ultimate sacrifice and turned my back on meat, but I did cut back on the taters. Before the bet I was getting up there close to the three hundred pound plateau which is bad enough but would be even worse if I wasn't stacking on a large frame. Being 6'5" does help spread out the mass a might.

I'm 98% certain I have my friend and competitor, Arlene beaten. Which means I will not be donning a pink Barry Fanilow shirt and taking her to see the nerve wracking entertainer when our group of friends head to Vegas in October. It will be Jennifer and I's 12th anniversary and I hated the thought of having to listen to Copacabana as part of our celebratory weekend.

Being the victor, means Arlene will be purchasing my ticket, as well as accompanying me to see this ...

And diet be danged. I will most likely be sipping some sort of rum concoction while reaping my reward. Truthfully Arlene never stood a chance. Her husband Rob was pulling for me to win and made sure she ate well. I think the reason why are rather obvious. Yeah, I'm kind of devious.

But here's to winning wagers, tasty food, and good-natured friends.

Monday, June 29, 2009

All Good Things ...

I've lost my passion for My Town Mondays.

Used to be, I made time to do research, take pictures and create posts that I at least hoped had an appeal or entertainment factor beyond those you call Amarillo or the Texas Panhandle fun. I started My Town Monday's in February of 2008 and have done a total of 65 MTM posts in the 16 months since. This will be my last for at least a while. Sadly it's not even a good one. I am taking the lazy way out and posting a video clip that someone else created. I'm also posting a humorous song by Billy Joe Shaver called Leavin' Amarillo. No I'm not actually leaving town, but I thought it appropriate for the occasion. (to hear the whole song you have to actually click over to another site, but a 30 second sample will play without leaving my blog)

I will gather links this week and post them, but then I am done. I gladly hand over the reins to any and all who want to continue the ritual. I will let my readers, and those who contribute regularly, know where to go for the links to other My Town Mondayers. I may even contribute a piece or two down the road as there are still plenty of tales about Amarillo and the Texas Panhandle, but for now I plan to double up my efforts to efforts to see one of my books published. I will still be blogging on a regular basis, but at this time I simply do not want any weekly obligations to anyone other than myself. Hope everyone understands.

A hearty thanks to all of you who have joined in and made MTM a success. I truly do appreciate y'all believing in my vision. And please let me know if you are interested in taking over the weekly hosting. Hope all of you have enjoyed learning about towns all over the globe as much as I have.


Leavin Amarillo - Shaver

Links to other
My Town Mondayers

Debra -- Village of Peninsula, Ohio
Barbara Martin -- Toronto, Canada
Patti Abbott -- Detroit, Michigan
Laurie Powers -- San Pedro, California
Kathleen Ryan -- Las Vegas, Nevada
Lauren -- Chicago, Illinois
Barrie Summy -- Santa Barbara, California
Junosmom -- Kentucky
Clair Dickson -- Brighton, Michigan

Saturday, June 27, 2009

This is a test to see if mobile blogging from my phone is going to work.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Spud Muffin

No time for a real post so I wanted to share this news story with y'all. Warning, it's a groaner.

You can read the full article at the link above but long story short, an Oklahoma City woman was arrested for prostitution even though her client didn't pay her in cash money. Instead the man bartered for sexual favors by trading a case of potato chips valued at $30.

My only comment ... Wonder if they were Lays?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hark The Hairy Angels

So there I was. The steaks were ready after having marinated the better part of the day. The Shiner Bock was cold. I had my flip-flops and shorts on and withing a few minutes the savory aroma of grilling meat would be filling my nostrils. I even had the horseshoe poles set up to occupy my time while the steaks cooked.

Did I mention I got an awesome new grill for Father's Day? Actually I got it a week or so before Father's Day but the timing is irrelevant. What's important is that I've been grilling a variety of meat every night since. Steaks, shrimp, chicken, salmon, porkchops, tilapia. And it's all been pretty dang tasty if I do say so myself.

Back to the tale ... The steaks were ready, the beer was cold, the horseshoe battle was ready to commence.

I fired up the grill grabbed my beer and began battling my buddy for horseshoe supremacy while the grill got hot. My new grill has an infrared burner so I only tossed the shoes a couple of times before heading over to toss the meat on.

That's when I discovered I'd committed the ultimate grilling sin. I'd ran out of propane. And yeah I know actual wood and charcoal grilled food tastes better but I love the convenience and speed of gas. Besides a water pan with wood chips can more than compensate for the lost flavor.

This new grill used gas way faster than my old one so I wrongly assumed I was good on propane, but now I had to strike out and buy some gas or face certain starvation. Now the Chevron station I usually go to for propane was already closed so I headed to a different place. While I waited in line I sent a twitter message that read, "Need more propane for my grill. Where's Hank Hill when you need him?"

So imagine my amusement when I stepped up to the counter and read the guy's name badge. Sure enough his last name was Hill. No, not Hank, but I feel certain this propane and propane accessory salesman had to at least be related to the King of The Hill star.

Oh but he fun didn't stop there. While we are walking outside to the large propane tank I notice this guy has a fairly large tattoo covering the back of his calf.

Now I got nothing against tattoos. Someday, when I sell a novel, I'm even going to get one to celebrate the event. But sometimes I look at a tattoo and my first thought is .... what the hell was this guy thinking. My second though was ... Oh, this will make a great blog.

So very inconspicuous I got out my cell phone, lowered it to my side and snapped several shots of the guy's legs. Oh the crap I will do to entertain you people.

The above shot is the best of the lot, but even it does not do the body art justice. Yes that is an angel's bare ass? Why? I don't know. And besides being a tad bit wider than I would imagine an angel's backside to be there was one other thing about the tatt that kind of freaked me out. Sadly that feature did not come through in the photo.

This ink was on a guy's leg. A guy with hairy legs. So covering that angel derriere were lots of curly little black hairs giving her buttocks a very woolly appearance. Now I'm not a big advocate of men shaving their legs but if this fella really wanted a bar butted angel on his calf he could have done a tad of manscaping and at least plucked the hairs sprouting from each of her cheeks.

But don't worry, I got my propane, cooked the steaks, and not even the memory of a hairy-hammed angel was enough to deter my appetite.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Two Line Tuesday

It's been a while since I participated in Two Line Tuesday so here goes.

Two lines I've read this week ...

The mysterious man in the black wool coat sat in the front row of the Princess Theater, precisely in the center seat. He set his top hat on his knees, and his rough beard straggled down, like a bird's nest after a storm.

These particular lines are the first two sentences of Magickeepers by Erica Kirov. Erica Kirov is actually the pseudonym for Erica Orloff. If you do not read her blog, you should be.

And from a short story I've been working on this week ...

Jack Teague was Red Dirt, Oklahoma's first murder victim in pert near thirteen years, but that had little to do with every one's surprise. Matter of fact , the whole damn town had expected someone to shoot the bastard long before now.

Speaking of short stories. You can still read my latest over at Beat To Pulp. Thanks to all who already have and took the time to comment either here on my blog or over at BTAP.

And as always check out the Women of Mystery blog to see what others have read and written this week.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Sworn To Silence -- My Town Monday

Time for me to introduce y'all to another great author from right here in the Texas Panhandle.

Linda Castillo has won numerous writing awards. Including the Daphne du Maurier Award of Excellence, the Holt Medallion, and a RITA nomination. Her latest novel, a thriller titled, Sworn To Silence hits the shelves here in the United States this week. Earleir this week she was kind enough to answere a few questions about writing, her novel, and life here in Amarillo.

HI Linda, first let me thank you for taking the time to join us for My Town Monday here at my blog. And speaking of my town, I should actually say OUR town since you live here as well. But I know you haven't always called the Texas Panhandle home so how about you start by telling us about a few of the places that you have lived both as a child and an adult. And what brought you to the Amarillo area in the first place.

Thank you for having me, Travis. You have an awesome blog, and I’m so happy to be here talking about the new book.

I’m originally from a small farm town in Ohio, population: 79. My husband and I lived in Dallas for 17 years. We love that part of Texas, but we were ready to leave all that hustle and traffic. So when Ernest got transferred, we were ready and moved to Bushland (Bushland is just a few miles west of Amarillo on I-40. It and Canyon, TX are the closest things Amarillo has to suburbs) in April in 2005. We love living in the Panhandle. The people are so incredibly friendly and the traffic is almost non-existent. The only thing I could live without is the wind. I spend as much time as I can outside, riding the horses mostly, and sometimes that prairie wind is quite violent!!

If I count correctly you have 20 novels already in print, and another due this week. How have the places you've lived shaped your writing and how do you go about choosing the setting for your novels. And have you considered using Amarillo or the panhandle as the setting for a novel?

Well, close enough. I’ve actually written 22 books, but then who’s counting? The places I’ve lived have definitely shaped my writing. I mentioned earlier that I’m originally from a small farm town. Even though I spent seventeen years living in a huge metropolitan city, I never forgot the rural lifestyle, and I never forgot my roots. SWORN TO SILENCE is set in a small town in Ohio’s Amish Country. I’ve heard that writers should stick to writing what they know. Well, small town Ohio is so imprinted on my brain and so much a part of me that writing the setting was second nature.

I'm glad you brought up your latest your latest novel since it is the subject of my next question. Sworn To Silence is already out in the UK, and scheduled for US release this week. I know it is the tale of a woman going back to the Amish country
of her youth. Can you tell us a bit more?

The idea of writing a big thriller has always appealed to me. Here’s a summary of the book: Sixteen years before the story opens, a series of brutal murders shattered the peaceful farming community of Painters Mill, Ohio. A young Amish girl, Katie Burkholder, lived through the terror of the Slaughterhouse Murders. In the aftermath of the killings, the town was left with a sense of fragility, a loss of innocence, and for Kate, a realization that she didn’t belong.

Now, a wealth of experience later, Kate has been asked to return as Chief of Police. Her Amish background combined with her big-city law enforcement expertise makes her the perfect candidate. Kate is certain she has come to terms with the past…until the first body is found, brutally slaughtered in a field of pristine snow.

Kate vows to stop the killer. But no one knows about the secrets she kept as a fourteen-year-old Amish girl. Dark secrets that bind her to a madman and threaten the life she’s built for herself in Painters Mill. Kate knows if she doesn’t succeed, the violence of her past will repeat itself, and this time she may not survive . . .

I'm eager to read the novel and I love the premise. The contradictions between a small rural Amish country, and a brutal serial killer are quite compelling, but then when you add in the history and inner turmoil of your protagonist Kate Burkholder the blend is all the more gripping. However, Amarillo Texas is vastly different from the setting of your novel? Did you spend a lot of time in Amish communities researching the novel, and characters, or did you already have the necessary knowledge to write Sworn To Silence?

I love the juxtaposition of wholesome versus evil. And I couldn’t think of a more interesting setting for my book. As a writer, I wanted to explore the culture. I wanted to write a protagonist that could immerse us in that world. A character torn between two cultures—cultures that many times clash. I wanted to inject something terrible into this wholesome small town to see how this diverse character handled that kind of stress.

As far as research, I made a trip to Ohio in April for the book’s “pre-launch” tour. Some of the St. Martin’s folks and I traveled from Cleveland to Columbus to Cincinnati to Dayton, where I did some newspaper interviews and we met with some really wonderful booksellers and librarians. When the pre-launch was over, I rented a car and drove to Holmes County and the area where I’d set Painters Mill. Talk about fun! It’s was absolutely fascinating to travel the same roads I’d written about and visit some of the places I’d mentioned in the book. I did quite a bit of research online, but nothing beats a personal visit.

Speaking of Amarillo and it's differences from other parts of the country, what one thing that surprised you most when you first moved here? What one thing do you miss most from your former homes?

What struck me most about Amarillo is the vastness of the land and the wide open spaces. I *LOVE* the stark beauty of the Panhandle. Another thing that struck me is how friendly people are up here. Dallas is generally a pretty friendly town, but not like the Amarillo area. That’s not to mention the lack of traffic! After living in Dallas for so long, the fact that you can drive across town during rush hour is a pretty amazing feeling. Aside from friends and family, I guess what I miss most is trees. And when it gets really dry, I miss rain.

I know from your website, that you have another passion besides writing. Tell us about your love for horses.

Aside from writing, there’s nothing I love more than talking about the horses. If you let me, I’ll talk your ear off. My husband and I own two Appaloosas, a mare named Missy and a gelding named George. This being Quarter horse country, we sort of stand out in a crowd, if you know what I mean. My husband I have ridden Palo Duro Canyon and one of the area ranches. I ride almost every day, wind permitting. I love seeing the land up close and personal. Give me a dirt road or a rocky trail, and I *have* to know where it leads or what’s around the bend. Sometimes I love to ride fast. I barrel race both horses, but my mare is faster. Much faster. I’ve run a 17.2 on George, which is pretty much a 4D time. Missy is still in training, but she’s got a pretty good foundation and I’m going to start running expos this summer. I’m thinking about taking George to the Llano Estacado endurance race this fall. He’s not fast, but he’s got a lot of stamina and can really cover some ground.

Do you think about your fiction while you are riding or is it a chance to clear your mind and concentrate on other things? Have you ever written any characters that share your passion for horses, and if so what novel did they appear in?

These are such great questions. Usually when I ride, I’m in the moment. It’s one of the few things I do where I’m not worried about something else. I sort of recharge and, yes, clear my mind when I ride. But I must admit, I have conceived a book idea that very much deals with horses. I’m not sure if it will ever get written, but the premise appeals to me very much and it’s fun to think about doing.

So now that Sworn to Silence is finished and headed for best seller-dom I'm sure you are hard at work on your next project. Can you tell us anything about it yet?

Well, one can hope. SWORN TO SILENCE is the first book in a continuing series, featuring both Kate Burkholder and BCI agent John Tomasetti. I just completed the third book. A couple of days ago, I heard from my editor and he loved it, which was really gratifying to hear. (it’s not always the case!) I’m excited about the series and currently have two more ideas for two more books.

I want to thank, Linda for taking the time to answer my questions. For any of y'all looking for a good read, you can't go wring by reading any of Linda's work. I know I'm eager to pick up my copy of Sworn To Silence. Which I will be doing at the first of Linda's two local signings. If you are in the Amarillo area I hope to see you at ...

Thursday, June 25, 2009 at 7:00 PM
Hastings Books
5512 Gem Lake Road
Amarillo, Texas 79106

But of you can't make that signing. Try this one

Sunday, June 28, 2009 at 2:00 PM
Barnes and Noble Booksellers
2415 Soncy Road
Amarillo, Texas 79124

Please check back throughout Sunday and Monday as I ad links to post about other towns all over this globe. (I may be a tad tardy adding links this evening as I celebrate Father's Day)


Jenn Jilks -- Muskoka, Ontario, Canada
Chris -- Hong Kong, China
Debra -- Village of Peninsula, Ohio
Mary -- Olmsted Falls, Ohio
Cloudia -- Honolulu, Hawaii
Gary Dobbs -- Pontypridd, England
Terrie Farley Moran -- New York City, New York
Junosmom -- Kentucky
Barrie Summy -- Oceanside, California
Clair Dickson -- Brighton, Michigan
J Winter - Cincinnati, Ohio
Barbara Martin -- Toronto, Canada

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Y Not

Since I am not going to offer up a real blog post today, Y Not head on over to David Cranmer's fine creation, Beat To A Pulp and read my latest short story titled ... Y Not.

Be sure and leave a comment to let me know what you think.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Sweet Googly Moogly!

I started this bog back in April of 2007. For at least six months before that I read several writing related blogs. The most entertaining and enlightening of which was venerable, Miss Snark. If you are a writer and have never read Miss Snark you are doing yourself a vast disservice. The archives are still there so venture on over and educate yourself.

It was in the comments of Miss Snark that I first discovered MaNiC MoMMy's fantabulous wit. So of course I started reading her blog. Those were the first two I made a point to check everyday. Google Reader was not yet an option a I dutifully clicked everyday to see of they had a new post.

So when in February of '07 I attended a week long writer's workshop in Arizona. There I had several agents as well as an editor tell me it was important to establish an online presence before I sold a novel. Thus One Word, One Rung, One Day was born. I never would have became a blogger without attending that workshop. Or reading Miss Snark and MaNiC MoMMy.

So it is with great pride that I announce that one of my blogging heroes. none other than the MaNiC MoMMy herself, Stephanie Elliott who also writes for Betty Confidential has designate your truly as one of the best of the best Dad Bloggers. You can read what she has to say about me as well as the four other great dad bloggers she highlighted in honor of Father's Day at this link.

I'm stoked to be part of such great company. And to be honored by one of my favorite all time bloggers ... I couldn't ask for more.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Missed The Target

We've been shopping for a bike for my oldest son. His didn't fare so well in the fire of '09, but he'd about outgrown his old one anyway. I like to describe myself as frugal, but my wife would use another word ... cheap.

Choose you own adjective, just understand that I never buy a thing without comparing prices at every last place I can think of. So there we were comparison shopping for bikes. One of the stops on our journey was Target.

Now I'll be honest, Target isn't my favorite store. I got nothing against the joint, other than it strikes me as a a tad girly. Think about it, you never see single men roaming around Target the way you do Wal-Mart, Big Lots, or even K-Mart. The only guys you see at Target are the sad unfortunate feet shuffling husbands like myself that get coerced.

Though I do give Target kudos for keeping the shopping store snack department alive. Nothing can save unbearable excursion like a Cherry Slurpee and a hot buttery pretzel. But I digress. Back to the bikes at good ol' Target.

There was the Mongoose Crush. A tad pricey but a decent looking bike with a good manly name ... CRUSH.

Next we looked at the RIP CLAW. Still a bit high, but the name and tiger stripes had my son interested.

The INVADER was getting closer to my intended price range, but it's drab Army green and lack of flair invoked nothing from my 8 year old.

So we moved on to the FALCON.

My son's shook his head and said, "Dad, it's a bird." I knew what he meant. Yeah falcons are birds of prey, but the ability to swoop down and nab a mouse doesn't correlate that well with the mad curb jumping and dirt handling skills a boys bike needs to possess.

And then we came to this.

Really? The IMPOSTER? That's the best the PR team at Magna Bikes could come up with? My son asked, "Dad, what an imposter?"

I shook my head and said, "Trust me an imposter isn't even half as cool as a falcon."

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Last of the Characterization

Back to characterization for one last post on the subject.

Unless you are writing from a true omniscient, POV (point of view) plays a huge role in how the reader will perceive your characters. And that is exactly why I do not like omniscient. I much prefer to view or reveal my fictional worlds through the eyes of whatever narrator I've chosen.

The things your character notices and reveals to the reader also says a lot about them. Two men walk into a hunting cabin. One is in his sixties. he just retired after forty years as assembly line worker for a Ford plant. The other is a thirty-one year old day trader. Neither owns the cabin. Let's say a mutual buddy built the thing himself, and he's out chopping wood for the wood burning heater when the arrive. Neither of our two characters have ever been to the cabin when they arrive at nearly the same time.

A snippet of the scene with the autoworker as the POV.

Eyeballing the woods surrounding the cabin, Rick Hargrove nodded at the location. Pines and aspens dotted the hillside sloping p away from the back porch of the place and off to the right. Despite the cold November air, Rick had left his truck window down the last three miles of the trip to better enjoy the pine scented air. He was eager to get out and start scouting for the hunt, but after the long drive his knees had stiffened so he took his time getting out of the pickup.

Off in the distance, Rick heard the echoing thwack of steel on wood, most likely Larry off playing lumberjack. Rick stepped around to the side of the cabin to drain off the last of the convenience store coffee before heading out into the forest to help his buddy haul back logs for the fireplace.

The reader will not know any specifics about Rick, but they can guess he's older and somewhat patient since he took the time to notice the surroundings and enjoy the scent. The reader also knows he's willing to pull his own weight.

Greg Larsen gritted his teeth, but finally he could see the cabin. These last three miles had been hell. The road narrow and rutted. He could have gone faster but he hated the idea of scratching the paint on his Land Rover. Pulling up behind a beat of old Ford Truck, Greg swung the driver's door open and stepped out in to the cold. Unzipping his pants he took a piss right there beside his SUV. The sound of wood being chopped filled the air as Greg examined the cabin. No way i hell was there any electricity way out here, but Larry had a generator. Or so he said. So what the hell was with the huge stack of firewood piled on the porch?

At least there was a shitload already cut. Greg had come up here to hunt mule deer not imitate Paul Bunyon.

Okay so the writing in those samples wasn't all that great but I wanted to throw something out there to try and illustrate what I mean by POV influence. I'm guessing few readers will like the second character. They certainly won't warm up to him as easily s the second. They noticed and did most of the same things but their unique personalities colored those observations and as a writer it is your job to use those characters observations to influence the reader.

It is very important hat you write each scene from the POV of the intended character, not your own and not in some generic tone or style for every character in the novel. Think about the things important o you character. One that notices only the name brand on other's jeans and shoes will give the reader a different perception from a character that stoops down to pick up[ a penny on the sidewalk.

Writers need to get into the character every bit as much as an actor does before a scene. Forget who you are and remember who's eyes you are writing through.

That brings us to dialogue. Where you once again must be true to that character. If your character is an English school teacher she better not say, "You're momma ain't here so pick up you own mess." And if you character is a big hairy Texan he better not say, I am about to leave for the store would you guys like to join me." Hell no, he should say, "I'm fixin to head to go the store. Y'all want go?"

But beside dialect, you can use conversation to reveal characterization. Imagine, your protagonist is a nurse that normally works a 12 hour shift but this time she left work early after the onset of a migraine. At home she walks into her bedroom only to find her husband in the arms of a buxom redhead.

I'm purposely going to leave out any actions takes since we as writers often get lazy and use them to convey emotion rather than the actual words.

Reaction one ...

"You cheating piece of shit!"
"Don't Honey me. In our bed? How could you?"
"A man gets lonely. And your hardly home. And when you are you're usually sleeping."
"This is what you do every night? Screw some tramp while I'm out earning us a living?"
"No. Not every night. I just --"
"Save it. And no stay right where you are. Both of you. Don't let me interrupt your little fun. I'll just grab a few things and leave you to enjoy each other. It's about time some other stupid woman supported you anyway."

Reaction two ...

"Why? Why oh why are you doing this to us?"
"Honey it's not what it looks like."
"Then what is it."
"Okay maybe it is, but a man gets lonely. And you're hardly ever home. And when you are you're usually sleeping."
"One of us has to work and I can't help the only job I could find was graveyards. You made a promise the last time.
"I know baby and I'm sorry. Roxy was just leaving anyway. Come sit down let's talk through this."

Reaction three ...

"I knew it. I knew you could never change. None of you can."
"Honey, it's not --"
"Please. All you men are alike."
"I can't help it that I get lonely. You're hardly ever home. And when you are you're sleeping."
"Save the sad story for the judge."

Those examples aren't all that great and part of that is because I do not really know these characters and have not done the background work I mentioned in part 1. Nevertheless the character in reaction 1 is dumbfounded. Probably shocked and maybe the guy will alter talk his way out of trouble maybe not. Reaction two, the woman is a pushover. She probably expected this day to come but since she won't hold him accountable it really doesn't matter. He might have to sleep on the couch a night or two but within a few days he'll be back in her good graces. Until his wife reaches a breaking point this scene will probably be repeated. Of course when she does break there may be a tube of Superglue, a pair of testicles, and a trip to the ER in a later scene.Reaction 3 is more definite. The guy was on his last chance and it's over. Most likely, divorce lawyers will be part of the next scene.

And I'm out of time but do want to mention that actions of characters speak very loudly as well, but don't use them as a crutch to hold up dialogue. They should accompany each other. The character in reaction one might have taken her shoes off and thrown them at the copulating couple in bed. In reaction two she would have wiped away tears, or lowered her head, Maybe even crumpled to the floor. Reaction three I can hear the slamming of the door as she left.

Above all else YOU, THE WRITER, smut know the character to truly make them come alive for others. Interview them, write backstory about them, cut pictures out of magazines that make you think of them. Do whatever it takes to make them come alive in your mind and then write them. But as you do make sure you are totally immersed in their head and paint the world as they would see it. Do that and your reader will soon begin to think they are real.

Characterization part 1 and part 2 can be found by clicking on the numbers.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Victory or Death, Travis Style -- A My Town Monday Post

This week's My Town Monday is going to be a bit different. More of a My State Monday, because the famed and fabled, Chris Eldin has requested via twitter that I do a post about Travis County, Texas.

Truth is I don't know a whole lot about Travis County. After all the finely named county does lie right at 500 miles south of my hometown of Amarillo. I can tell you that the county seat of Travis County is none other than Austin, the state capital of Texas. A quick trip to the internet tells me that the counties population is just shy of one million. I also learned that the county has added 400,00 residents since 1990 and that it has one of the highest property tax rates in the nation. The county comes in 37th to be exact. Also Travis county was founded in 1840 and encompasses just over a 1,000 square miles. Within the county one can also find Lake Travis.

But the Austin area does not have the monopoly on the name Travis. There are dozens of schools, streets, and parks that proudly bear the name, including Amarillo.

I did not attend Travis Middle School, but here is a sign showing the front of the school which sits on the northeast side of Amarillo. Their sports teams are referred to as the Travis Texans.

Not to mention lots of people. It has become a fairly popular name among young kids here in the state. When I was growing up I only ever encountered one other Travis in any of my classes and he eventually moved away.

So what's with this proliferation of Travis's here in the Lone Star State. A simple battle cry can explain quite easily -- "REMEMBER THE ALAMO!"

William Barret Travis was but one of the many who died at the Alamo while fighting for Texas Independence. He was a Lieutenant Colonel in the Texian Army.

Legend and lore are thick concerning the Alamo. Movies have been made and many of the names are very recognizable to even those not fortunate enough live here in The Lone Star State. James Bowie and Davy Crockett at the very least. Incidentally I attended James Bowie Junior High here in Amarillo. Yes there is a Crockett as well as a Fannin, Austin, Bonham, and Huston. The leaders of the Texas Revolution are represented quite nicely among out school district.

But back to William Barret Travis. On February 26th, 1834, Colonel Travis, under siege and badly outnumbered by Santa Anna's army, penned this famous letter,

Fellow citizens and compatriots;

I am besieged, by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment and cannonade for 24 hours and have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion, otherwise, the garrison are to be put to the sword, if the fort is taken. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, and our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat. Then, I call on you in the name of Liberty, of patriotism & everything dear to the American character, to come to our aid, with all dispatch. The enemy is receiving reinforcements daily and will no doubt increase to three or four thousand in four or five days. If this call is neglected, I am determined to sustain myself as long as possible and die like a soldier who never forgets what is due to his own honor & that of his country. Victory or Death.

William Barret Travis
Lt. Col. Comdt.

P.S. The Lord is on our side. When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn. We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels and got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.

On the outside of the envelop he wrote, Victory or Death.

Help never came, and on March 4th of 1834 legend says that Travis called his troops together. Addressing the assembly he is reported to have said, "We must die. Our business is not to make a fruitless effort to save our lives, but to choose the manner of our death." At which point Travis took his sword and drew a line in the sand and asked who would step over the line and die with him in the name of freedom, liberty and the Republic of Texas.

Only one man did not. Moses Rose, a former french soldier of Napoleon Bonaparte's Grande Armee. Rose has forever since been described as the Coward of the Alamo as the next night he snuck out and escaped through the line of Mexican soldiers beyond the Alamo's walls. It was Rose himself that first told of Travis's famous line in the sand.

In the early predawn hours of March 6, 1836 the Mexican Army attacked after a thirteen-day siege. Travis along with more than 200 other defenders dies during the Battle of the Alamo, but their deaths motivated others to finish the work. Remember the Alamo! and Travis's Victory or Death became the rallying cries and on April 21st, 1836 the Texian Army under command of General Sam Houston ended the war at the Battle of San Jacinto. The battle lasted a mere 18 minutes. Mexican General Santa Anna was captured shortly after the battle and with that the Republic of Texas was create.

The Republic stood until December 29, 1845 when Texas gave up it's status as a sovereign nation in favor of statehood.

And that is what I know about the name Travis.

For more My Town Monday posts from Bloggers the world over, check back throughout Sunday and Monday. I have dropped the ball and missed a few links the last few weeks so I am going to change my methods a bit this week. Colored links are active and the others are forthcoming. If you wish to participate please drop me a comment.


Jennifer Archer -- Canadian, Texas
David Cranmer -- Xunantunich, Belize
Crazy Working Mom -- Hector, Arkansas
Jenn Jilks -- Muskoka, Ontario, Canada
Debra -- Cleveland, Ohio
Cloudia -- Honolulu, Hawaii
Patti Abbott -- Detroit, Michigan
Barbara Martin -- Canada
Clare2E -- Hyde Park, New York
Barrie Summy -- San Diego, Caifornia
Chris -- Cambodia
Junosmom -- Kentucky
Clair Dickson -- Brighton, Michigan
Mary -- Olmsted Falls, Ohio

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Character Building Part II

Last post I discussed my methods for getting to now my characters and the importance of choosing the right name. If you missed it, click here. This time I'm going to discuss the techniques for making that character come alive for your reader.

There are two methods to reveal your characters and their traits - Direct and Indirect.

The differences between the two boil down to your basic show vs tell mantra of fiction writing.

Here are two samples.

- A fat car salesman in his late fifties, Frank Barrett, spent most of his free time paying mandolin and banjo in a western swing band.

Indirect - Rex left when I didn't respond, but not five minutes later, J.J. Reyna and Frank Barrett walked in together. Frank stood there for a minute toying with the pearl snaps on his outdated western shirt. I had to give it to those snaps. Holding back Frank's gut was no easy chore, and as much as he jacked with the things, always twisting and turning them with his sausage-like fingers, it was a wonder the buttons didn't pop off all together.

Frank Barret is one of the characters in my novel, Plundered Booty and that second passage comes directly from my manuscript.

The second is full of details and paints a more vivid picture, but to do so I had to use a lot more words. And I still didn't reveal all of his characters. The reader doesn't know from this that Frank plays in a band, or his exact age. However, in a novel where you have lots of time and can develop the character in layers, it is still much better to show the reader who and what the character is rather than tell them. Same goes for a short story, though words and time are much more limited there. And the direct method is often a good way to pass on relevant info on bit characters that may only be on one or two scenes.

Narrative isn't the only way to reveal character. Moreover, it's not even the best way. So next time, I'll give y'all my take and building characterizations via dialogue and action.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Character Building

Now that I'm fully back in the writing groove, I am in the mood to talk writing. Before I do, let me plainly state it is my belief there is no right way to create fiction. Sure there are lots of wrong ways, but quite possibly there are just as many correct ways.

So while in a way this could be taken as advice I am more than anything simply sharing my methods. Take them for what they're worth since I haven't exactly achieved my goals as of yet.


I write character driven pieces. Every last novel I've ever started, much less finished, has began with a character what-if.

What if a woman who regrets the abortion she had at 17 enters into a relationship with a man who thinks his wife would still be alive if she had opted terminate her pregnancy.
That what if turned into A River Without Water and from the very start I had very definite idea of who and what both protagonists were as characters.

What if a man discovers that his lifetime of bad luck has actually been good luck and that only through misfortune can he find his true path to happiness? I knew details of my main character of UnLuckLess long before I knew the crux of the plot.

What if a middle-aged car salesman with a pirate fetish gets tire of always giving in and decides to do a bit of plundering of his own? Plundered Booty would be a vastly different novel with Hank Zybeck's narrative voice, and it was that voice that guided me in writing the novel.

Other novelists start with a plot or a premise and build characters to fit.

A ticking time bomb is on the dam and unless it is disarmed in time, the entire valley, including the children's orphanage will be under fifty foot of water.
The hero could be a cop, a former navy seal, or an average Joe thrust into action.

There is some secret code hidden in a famous painting that threatens to redefine an entire religion.

Both styles have merit if properly done, but I only seem able to build a fictional world after I have created characters to inhabit it. And when I think about my favorite novels of all time it is the characters that stand out. More so that the nuances of the plot. The characters are the meat of a good tale, but without plot to move things forward, the book could never truly be great. One needs the other, just as a meat patty needs a bun to be a hamburger. Otherwise it's just a junk of ground beer on a plate.

So after i have my character what if, I sit down and write up brief snippets of life from not only that character but everyone that I am aware will inhabit the story.

For major characters, those that have POV's (Point of view) or have key roles in affecting plot I write five or six of these snippets.

These are not short stories but more slice of life vignettes. I usually start with one form early childhood, possibly the characters earliest memory. Then I progress up through their life writing an important even from variety of ages. School years, maybe their first date or first crush. A taste of their college years or first job perhaps. Earlier marriages and such. I try to write a few pages for each of these and I try to include as many emotions as I can. Happiness, anger, lust, jealousy. Discovering how my character deals with these emotions makes it much easier to write their reaction to later events.

Before I ever write word of my novel i will have 15 to 20 pages of material on my protagonist and anywhere from 2 or 3 pages to a dozen or so for the other characters. Sometimes I am halfway through a novel before I realize a new character is needed. At that point I will stop and create their back story. Sometime a character i thought would be needed gets cut but I save their history in case they ever fit somewhere else.

Very little of what I create in writing these pages ever makes the novel but by simply writing these details down and knowing them myself makes it easier to write and it saves me time down the road.

I have found by starting at an early age and progressing forward I am able to grow with the character. I can shape and manipulate them to be what I need them to be while at the same time discovering the background info that makes each one truly unique.

These slice of life vignettes are not great writing. I do not edit them for grammar or punctuation. I really on telling for the most part and there are shy on setting and other details unless there is a direct affect on the characters emotions.

A few of these have later turned into short stories but most never see the light of day. Another important character development that comes from these stories are the the characters names. I AGONIZE over names since I try very hard to select names that conjure some sort of mental image or reaction from a reader. I try names out on unsuspecting coworkers to see if they associate the name with any particular type of person.

In A River one of my protags is a retired rodeo star turned pro poker player. He is a Texan and a true man's man. I finally dubbed him Blue Riggins and most who have hard the name can guess at least a few of his character traits even without reading a single word. When you can accomplish that you are ahead of the game.

It is important to choose names that fit the time period. You don't want a character born in the twenties to be named Chloe, Brittany, or Caitlynn. Nor do you want one born in 1990 to be called Homer, Wilfred, or Eugene. Unless of course you are writing a boy named Sue style of story where the characters odd moniker or outdated name is a source of irritation and conflict.

Keep setting and social stature in mind as well. An east coast socialite is not likely to be named Ellie Mae and a deep south good ol' boy wouldn't come across well with a name like Landon or Blaine.

Scarlett O'Hara would not have been nearly as vivid a character had she been named Mary Jones, but at the same time you don't want to get so vivid or unique that the reader can't relate. For me at least many of the names in fantasy and Sci-Fi are so crazy I can't even pronounce them much less relate and form an opinion by the name. Guharialex and Bjuhkaferv and such turned me off a as reader. I understand the need to fit the genre, but if I can't even sound it out I eventually make up my own nickname. Guharialex might become goulash and Bjuhkaferv might be Bunkkperv. Trust me you don't want a reader making up goofy nicknames for you characters. At that point you've made your job selling them harder.

So now you have a bit of back story and a name for your character. Next you must use words to paint them in a way that they fell real for your reader. In my next post I'll talk about the methods and way to accomplish this.

Monday, June 8, 2009


Sadly there will be no My Town Monday from me. I will still be hosting links for all of the other My Town Mondayers, but I simply cannot clear my mind (Trust me I tried to create a decent post the better part of the morning) from the revisions of Plundered Booty to write a cognizant post. Yes, I am THAT EXCITED about the rewrites. So, check back throughout Sunday and Monday as I add links to posts from other parts of the world. and of course if you have something to say about your town or area let me know and I'll include you as well.

And if you are really dying to see or hear something about my life here in Amarillo, Texas you can check out the story about my family's leisure activities in Sunday's edition of the Amarillo Globe News. There is even a couple of pictures of my boys and one of yours truly. Striking white legs and all. Here is a link to the article.


Patti Abbott -- Detroit, Michigan
Debra -- Village of Peninsula, Ohio
Nan Higginson -- Upstate, New York
Chris -- Hong Kong, China
Barbara Martin -- Toronto, Canada
Jenn Jilks -- Muskoka, Canada
J Winter -- Cincinnati, Ohio

Saturday, June 6, 2009


The following post was originally a four part series, which I first blogged back in November of 2008. It details my journey into fatherhood and I'm only reposting it now to link the stories into one easily accessible spot. This is the most profound and influential event of my life and I feel compelled to place them together in an easy to read format, for myself if nothing else.

Today's story is going to be long. I may have to break it down into multiple parts, we'll see how it goes. As always, I am typing this as I recall things and there will be very little editing for content, grammatical mistakes, or typos. This story is not of the funny variety, but it has shaped and changed my life like no other. There are many details in this story that I've never shared with anyone outside of my wife and only with her encouragement, am I now feeling capable of sharing them.


The time was late October 2000. Jennifer and I had just celebrated our third anniversary and we were expecting our first child in a few weeks. We already knew we were having a boy and his due date was November 7th, but her doctor was a little concerned that the baby was growing too large so he sent us for another sonogram. Sure enough the technician took measurements and said we had a big one on our hands.

In response the doctor decided to induce Jennifer the very next day -- Halloween.

At the time my grandfather was in the VA hospital here in Amarillo and though I meant to go see him after Jennifer's appointment, I didn't make it that day because we know had a ton of things to get done before we became parents and now we had less than one day to get them all done.

That night I lay in bed -- tired from the hectic preparation, excited that the day was finally upon us, and extremely scared at the prospect of being responsible for another human being. Lying in bed, I made myself promises. I pledged to be there for my son. To guide him, to teach him, to be a part of his life on every level. My own father's involvement in my life had been sporadic at best and no way would I expose my own child to a lifetime of the same broken promises and absentee parenting.

My grandfather was the most influential male in my life and as I lay in bed that night before the big event, I not only thought about my unborn child whose life was just beginning, but also of my grandpa, whose time I knew was short.

Jennifer and I arrived at the hospital at O'dark-thirty the next morning and within half an hour the nurses had an IV started in her arm. Through it they injected the labor inducing medication and we were off.

Or so we thought.

Minutes ticked by. Hours slipped behind us and not much happened. Morning became afternoon. Afternoon gave way to evening and still we waited for our reluctant child to get properly motivated. Outside the weather turned nasty as a fog and drizzle set in ruining the night for trick or treaters. Inside, the hospital it was mostly trick and very little treat.

By far the most nerve wracking experiences of my life have been the times Jennifer was in labor, and that first time was the worst.

By seven P.M. things had progressed to the point where Jennifer was supposed to push, and push she did -- for two solid hours. But turns out our son had a head the size of a hot air balloon and that sucker wedged in her pelvis and refused to pass through. Jennifer pushed hard, but to no avail.

Then things started to go wrong. The babies heart beat grew weak and Jennifer's blood pressure dropped to dangerous level and the doctor said a C-section was in order.

Within seconds Jennifer, the doctor, a slew of nurse and myself headed at breakneck speed for the surgical delivery room. When we got there it was discovered that Jennifer's epidural had stopped working.

The doctor turned to me. "We can't do the surgery when she can feel her entire right side. Do you want us to try and redo the epidural or knock her out?"

By this time Jennifer was in lots of pain and her vitals were still crazy. As were the babies. So I asked, "Which is faster?"

"Knocking her out, but she won't be awake to see the baby right after he's born."

As the machines beeped and chimed and nurses scurried about, and Jennifer lay hurting on the table, I made the decision to do the fastest thing possible, even though I knew how bad she wanted to hold our son the minute he was born.

I was surprised how quick it took. The anesthesia knocked her out. The doctor made his slice, and within minutes he reached into the bloody goo and pulled out my son.

Some will say that witnessing the birth of their child is the most beautiful thing they've ever witnessed. I'm not one of them. The way he lifted my son up an out reminded me of the way a bass fisherman hoists his catch over the side of the boat. Only bass are not covered in nastiness. And this is coming from a guy who has gutted and cleaned hundred of animals. I have caught or shot critters cleaned them, cooked them, and sat down to dine on their flesh all within a half hours time, yet seeing the innards of the woman I love affected me in ways I never imagined.

The pediatrician took my son and went to work checking him out, while the OB/Gyn sewed my wife back up. With my concern and worry now split I rushed back and forth between the two trying to make certain both were going to be okay.

An hour later, Jennifer was awake though groggy. As she sat holding our fair-haired little boy I tried to relax, but I felt as though I'd been dragged down ten miles of cobblestone road.

But it was all over. Or so I thought. Little did I know that neither myself or Jennifer had any idea of what true worry felt like. In fact, we wouldn't know for several more days.

Two days later, on the morning we were scheduled to go home our pediatrician came in and said the words that all parent's fear the most, "Something is wrong." Those words destroyed nine months of our utopian dreams.

Our baby had a problem with his heart. Suddenly, we had a fight on our hands.



Parenthood Part II

The pediatrician's words penetrated my chest. The pain, the shiver, that coursed through me would not have been more pronounced had some stabbed me through the heart with an icicle.

The doctor tried to reassure my wife and I. "It could be nothing. Lots of babies have murmur's. I'm sure the pediatric cardiologist will be able to tell us more after he runs a few tests."

Waiting for those tests, Jennifer and I held hands, but said very little. I wanted to offer her some type of reassurance but how could I -- when the situation was beyond my control? Already I'd promised myself to teach and protect my son and within the first few days of being a father I'd failed at the latter.

At the age of twenty I'd been diagnosed with a genetic heart condition called Wolfe, Parkinson-White, and my assumption was that I'd passed on my shoddy heart gene onto my son. For the first time in my life I truly knew what guilt felt like.

The tests confirmed that something was wrong. That is all I remember. I do not recall the exact words the cardiologist used to deliver the news. I do not even remember mine or my wife's reaction. I probably should but I do not.

I do know it was said that our son would need surgery and that the hospital in Amarillo was not equipped or staffed to perform such a procedure. Houston and Dallas were discussed, as was the official medical term for our son's condition. --Coarctation of the Aorta.

Basically, the main vein that leaves the heart supplies blood to the lower half of his body had a narrow spot which prevent his legs from getting the blood he needed. this condition was very severe came him a slew of other problems if not corrected. I am not capable of writing the worst of them.

Soon after the harrowing news was delivered, we were told that Children's Hospital in Dallas was sending a plane up to pick up our son and fly him to Dallas. The plane had room for only one parent to ride along.

Jennifer still had staples in her stomach from the c-section and really she was in no shape to be traveling, and I couldn't bear not to be with my son, so I told the hospital staff that I would be going along.

The plane was supposed to arrive in a few hours so as my son was moved into the Neonatal ICU at Northwest Texas Hospital, I made a mad dash for home to gather a few things to take along to Dallas. Jennifer called her OB/GYN and talked him into removing her stitches early, so that she could catch a commercial flight along with her sister and meet me in Dallas. Her parents, my mom, and her sister's family made plans to make the six hour drive south the Dallas so as to provide us some much needed support.

I left the hospital where my wife and son was and headed for home. Outside the sky was dark grey, and the clouds hung low in the sky. I passed the VA hospital where my grandfather was, and wished I had time to stop. I'd been to visit him once since my son was born, but he'd been asleep so I still had not talked to him. My mom and grandmother had told him the news that we'd had a baby boy and that we'd given him my grandfather's name (Lee) for a middle name.

Tears streamed down my face as I drove by the facility. I looked to the building and spoke to my grandfather as if could hear me, even though I knew he could not.

At home, I hastily packed a bag, made arrangements for the care of our dogs, and hurried back to the hospital. A freezing drizzle began to fall as I sped back to my family.

My heart shattered when I arrived and found my tiny son in the throes of a seizure. The doctor and nurses frantically worked to end his violent shaking. Jennifer was there, but again, I do not remember the details of what was said between us. No one had answers as to why our baby was having a seizure, other than to say seizures were not a normal symptom of his heart condition.

After what seemed like an eternity, but what was probably less than five minutes, his body ceased it's frantic movements. Then he lay still. Too still, but the doctors said that was the result of the medication they had given him so that he would rest for the flight.

Delayed by the adverse weather the place finally arrived three or four hours later than expected. My son and I rode by ambulance out the the airport where a small twin engine plane with multicolor balloons and the words Children's Hospital of Dallas were painted on the side.

I stood on the icy tarmac while the paramedics lifted the plastic enclosed incubator inside. A thin sheen of ice now covered the ground and the sides of the plane. The crew made room for me and closed the door. As we sped down the runway for takeoff I watched my son, comforted a slight degree by the rise and fall of his chest, and the fact I was with him. I hurt that Jennifer was not there with us.

I tried to imagine the scene on the other end. I wondered how long it would be before he went into surgery. I wondered how long he would be out. How long the recovery would take. How long before we got to all go home and live the life we'd dreamed these past nine months. I did not allow myself to ponder the other question that lurked at the back of my brain, but as we lifted off and cut through the low hanging clouds I, for the first time in years, prayed to a God I wasn't sure I believed in.

To be continued ...


Parenthood III

Parenthood Continued

An ambulance waited for us we we landed at Luv Field in Dallas. Darkness had set in and the weather was just as miserable only it wasn't quite cold enough for the moisture leaking from the sky to be ice. In a cold drizzle, I watched them move my son from the plane to the waiting ambulance.

There wasn't enough room in the back for me so I rode shotgun with the driver as we made our way across Dallas's rain slick streets.

Only a few minutes later we pulled up and unloaded beneath a dripping canopy. I was not prepared for the scene once we got inside.

My son was wheeled into a small room. One of Children's Hospital's neo-natal ICU's. For the first time that day I counted my blessings. All of the babies in that room were hooked to machines. Most were tiny, underdeveloped preemies. The few that looked older had obvious maladies. My son was by far the biggest infant in the room and despite the diagnosis, looked robust and healthy.

Gathered around most of the cribs was one or two haggard looking parents. I'm sure I looked no better to them, but at that moment I selfishly thanked God that my situation was better than theirs. I watched while the staff hooked my son up to various monitors and a new IV. All looked good and stable and I relaxed the tiniest of bits knowing that nothing too crazy was going on.

I was instructed to leave the room and go fill out registration papers. As I signed my name to what seemed like a thousand sheets of paper my wife and her sister arrived . I could tell Jennifer was hurting, but she wanted to see our son so I quickly finished and asked the receptionist to let us go back.

She called back to the nurses desk to make certain it was okay. It wasn't. according to the ICU nurse our son was in the throes of another seizure. They wouldn't let us back to see him, so we sat in the waiting area and held our breath staring anxiously at the door to the back.

A solid half hour passed by. Other parents went in and out. At that point we didn't know any of them well enough to ask what they'd seen or overheard. That would change in the coming days as we all became spy like. Anytime the nurses or doctors were examining or talking about your child you were not allowed back, but as I said the room was small maybe 12 by 24 so things were easily overheard. Over time we parents bonded, and at times it felt like us against them with the doctors and nurses being them, an odd feeling given the fact we were depending on this same individuals to safe guard the life of our precious babies.

A nurse finally came and got us. She explained that they were administering medicine when all of a sudden our son began to twitch and jerk involuntarily. As the nurse talked a very dim light flickered in my brain. The nurse said "It was almost like an allergic reaction to the medicine, but the medication we used is very common and according to his chart it was the same thing they administered in Amarillo."

But before I could digest the information and come to a conclusion the nurse pointed to our son and exclaimed, "Look he has Harlequin Phenomenon!"

My heart sank. All we needed was one more problem to go along with the defective aorta and the seizures.

Jennifer and I looked at our son. Straight down the middle of his face there was a line. On one side his face was flushed and bright red. The other side was pale white. I guess our faces where lined with worry because the nurse quickly explained that Harlequin Phenomenon is rare but nothing to get concerned about. There is also a horrible skin disease that bears the name of harlequin but here is a brief medical description of the condition my son had.

Harlequin phenomenon is a striking reddening of one side of the body and blanching of the other half with a sharp line of demarcation in between.

Each episode may last from seconds to minutes occasionally longer and the episodes may recur. Such episodes occur most often during the first few days of life. They are thought to be a vascular manifestation of the changes that are occurring in the autonomic system in the newborn.

This event occurred a few times in the coming days and then stopped all together. What didn't stop in the coming days was the uncertainty.

The first doctor we had knew and trusted the the pediatric cardiologist from Amarillo, but she went out of town after that first night. The second doctor expressed serious doubts that our son had coarctation because he said it was too difficult to diagnose through the tests the doctors in Amarillo had done. His primary concern was the seizures so he brought in a neurologist who began testing our son's brain. Meanwhile our son continued to demonstrate all the classic symptoms of a coarctation yet that idiot second doctor refused to acknowledge that the rubes from Amarillo might have called it right. My words not the doctors, but our meanings are the same. Yeah, I'm still a bit bitter of this time frame.

My most vivid memories of these days are the people that surrounded us. not our family who were there to provide support but the strangers that we were suddenly tossed in together with. There were parents who cared and hurt every second for their child, there were babies there that the parents never showed up to check on, there were parents who were angry, delusional, and parents that seemed annoyed that their child had inconvenienced their life by entering this world less than perfect.

I spent much of my time angry and fighting the urge to confront some of these fools but knew it would do no good. Sadly, several babies that shared a room with my son that first few days did not make it. Some from the caring loving parents and some from the other side of the spectrum. It was just as heartbreaking either way.

And sobering. To this day I feel as though I aged ten years with each death and I grieve for those parents.

Since doctor #2 decided my son's most serious problem was not his heart we were moved on the fifth or sixth day up to a regular room where the staff would continue neurological testing. For the first time I wandered around the hospital. Troy Aikman had sponsored a wing on the oncology floor. A ton of athletes had donated memorabilia and when i needed a break I often strolled up their to check things out. Along the way I stopped and talked to older kids punching around IV's and again I counted my blessings as I met these kids who were battling the cancer demon. Very few had hair but surprisingly most had bright smiles.

Jennifer was hurting far more than she'd admit even know so each night I insisted she go back to the motel with her family while I stayed and slept in our son's room.

This post is really discombobulated, but I am simply typing things as I remember. And during this time period I felt discombobulated, so it's only fitting I write it that way.

One such remembrance is of the milking room. Okay, so it's real name was the lactation room. Jennifer wanted to breast feed but of course our son was in no condition to nurse, so every few hours she would go in this room and use a machine to pump her milk. This milk was then frozen and stored for later use. I often sat with her while she endured this torture and often times this was the only alone time we had.

Life when on like this for a week or so. Tests all day, restless sporadic sleep for me all night. Our son's room overlooked the helicopter landing pad and the noise from that along with the fact they buffed the hall floors every night and the frequent visits from the nurse, and the waking up to warm the previously stored breast milk so I could bottle feed my son all left me very tired. I spent much of my time in a daze and my emotions were as scrambled as the previous sentence.

Back dropping all of that my grandfather continued to worsen. We also received news that Bart, the bloodhound Jennifer had owned when we married had finally succumbed to emphysema. That news would have hit her hard had we not already been on emotional overload.

This routine went on for days and then the neurologist scheduled a test which my son would have to be sedated for. Jennifer and I went to the lab with him. They administered the sedative and ... he had a seizure.

The medicine they'd given him was called Versed, the same thing they'd used in Amarillo and upon our arrival in Dallas. Three doses, three seizures. He'd had a grand total of 0 seizures any other time but guess what the neurologist refused to admit that their was a correlation. She claimed Versed never caused that kind of reaction and her recommendation was we put our son on some kind of serious seizure medication.

I asked for information on the medicine and a nurse brought me some literature. i do not recall the name of the stuff but the side affects scared me to death. And if he started taking it he would be on it for years as it caused problems to simply stop taking it. Jennifer and I discussed things over and decided not to put him on the medicine.

That very afternoon, the neurologist came into my son's room with a group of students in tow. When I told her we'd decided against the medicine, she very angrily told me, "I was putting my son's life in danger."

I asked her if any of the tests they'd ran on him had came back abnormal.

She said no.

I asked her if he'd ever had a seizure except when he'd been given Versed.

She said not that she was aware of.

I asked her if she could prove to me without a doubt that the versed was not the cause of his seizures.

She said nothing is impossible, but that she found that very unlikely.

So then I asked her if the roles were reversed and it was her child would she put him on such a serious medication without any real proof he needed it.

And she said the proof is my word. I am a doctor and you are not.

And I told her to get out because I needed more.

On her way out the neurologist said I was being naive and that she only hoped it wouldn't be too late before I came to my senses. To this day I've never been madder than I was then but guess what. My son has never had Versed again and he has yet to have another seizure.

A nurse that witnessed the entire thing said I'd done the right thing and that the neurologist was simply ticked off because I'd challenged her authority in front of students.

I never saw the neurologist again as the very next day our original doctors came back. She was quite put off that no one had done anything to correct my son's aorta.

And just like that the scariness of heart surgery, loomed back over us.

To Be Continued ...


Parenthood -- The Conclusion

Okay, here it is. The final installment of my saga into parenthood. Again let me say thanks to all of you have taken the time to read and comment on these long very personal posts. They have been tough to write and this last one was by far the hardest. Until now I have shared very few of the this details even with my friends. If you missed them you can read part1, part 2, and part 3 here. I promise future stories will be less tear inducing than this one has been.

Parenthood ... the conclusion.

Doctor #1, the cardiologist that had treated my son when we first arrived in Dallas, began running tests to confirm the original diagnosis. She made special note that under no circumstances was Versed to be administered and after being in Dallas for so long we were right back where we started ... with a diagnosis ofcoarctation of the aorta.

In the meanwhile, I continued staying at night in my son's room. Sleep was tough anyway so I ended up staying up deep into the night listening to the medical chopper take off and land and watching CNN. This was during the time of hanging chads and Florida and each night I watched the drama between Al Gore and George Bush play out.

One night I'd finally drifted off to sleep when a nurse shook me awake and said it was time to feed my son. I shuffled off to the little kitchen where the milk my wife had tortured herself over was stored. Each baggie of milk had a hospital provided label with the parent's last name and so forth. I'd noticed that among the collection of baggies there were several that bore the nameLangenbrunner.

An unusual sir name to say the least and unless you are a sports fan, and in particular a NHL hockey fan the name probably means nothing to you. But I am a hockey fan and a fairly rabid Dallas Stars fan at that, so I knew they had a winger by the name of JamieLangenbrunner.

Still, I never expected to walk into that little kitchen at 3 gawdawful in the morning and run into an NHL all-star. And guess what? He was warming up a little baggie of breast milk just like me. Between the sleep, my shock at seeing him, and not wanting to come across like a mindlessdoofus I merely nodded and said hello. He responded in kind and then shuffled out the door.

The next day Mr. Langenbrunner sat at the end of the hospital wing and signed autographs for hours. Much as I would have loved to talk to him, I didn't get in line as I didn't want to take any of the time he was giving to all the sick kids who really needed a pick me up. Besides, how stupid would I have look standing there like a big 6'5" overgrown kid amongst all those ill children with shaved heads and roll-around IV carts?

Once the initial diagnosis of coarctation was confirmed, the cardiologist sat down to talk over what should be done next. She said surgery was the least appealing, but probably necessary. However, she first wanted to try medicating the problem. She said it was possible that the troubled area would widenout on its own as he aged or that surgery could be postponed until he was older.

And to give us a break from living in the hospital she said we could take our son home for the weekend. Problem was we were nearly four hundred miles from home. So we checked out of the hospital and set up camp in the hotel room Jennifer and my mom had been staying in. Her parents and her sister's family had an adjoining room.

Truth is that weekend was far from restful. Without trained medical staff around I felt uneasy the entire time. I watched him breath. Sleep. Eat. All with a worried eye. Over the course of that weekend I slept worse than I had in the hospital. That may have been the longest weekend of my life as I left that room only to fetch food for the rest of us.

Monday morning we went back to the hospital with the understanding that if our son's blood pressures were near equal in both his feet and arms that we could go back to Amarillo. And if not -- surgery would be required. The disparaging blood pressures were a result of the narrow passage.

Monday morning dawned and we headed off hoping that maybe we would get to go home.

It wasn't meant to be.

The differences in the blood pressures were as stark as they'd ever been and we met with the surgeon that very afternoon. I remember staring at his hands as he talked. He explained the procedure, how they would go in from the back just below the shoulder blade and cut the narrowed portion out and then sew the two ends together. The concern would then be if that surgically joined portion would grow with the rest of our son. If not subsequent surgeries or procedures could be needed. Through it all I kept looking at this man's giant hands and wondering how on earth they could fix something tiny and delicate inside my baby.

The surgeon went on to say he did this particular surgery all the time. Matter of fact, he stated, "I did this very surgery today on the newborn of a professional athlete."

Of course I knew what athlete he was talking about and the knowledge comforted me. Money might not buy happiness but it does buy things such as top notch medical care and I figured that an athlete, that made hundred of thousands of dollars a year, possibly even a million would seek out the very best to help his son. I didn't have that kind of bank account, yet the exact same surgeon would be performing the same surgery on my son as had his.

The surgery itself was a slow torturous affair. I don't remember breathing much less talking. We sat in a tiny room and stared at each other -- waiting, wondering, and praying. At his time in my life I was very anti organized religion and bordering on being a non-believer, but spinning the common saying away from foxholes let me say, there are no atheist parents in a children's hospital.

Then word came. The surgery was over. The procedure had gone as well as possible and according to the surgeon, our son lost no more than a thimble of blood.

We breathed a sigh of relief, but there was one draw back. It was back to the NICU unit.

The Intensive Care unit was somewhat easier this time around as the uncertainty was gone. It felt as though we'd reached bottom and were not heading back up. That was partially true, our son had reached bottom, however I myself, still had a ways to fall.

During that second stint in the ICU, Jennifer and I befriended another couple. Their daughter was older, four I think and she was in recovery from something like her seventh or eight surgery. They were pros at the whole they and using theirexperience they guided us along making life much easier.

A few days later my son got to go to move to regular room. So did our new friends' daughter.

Things were looking up, but then word came from Amarillo that my grandfather had taken a turn for the worse. My uncle told me mom she needed to come home, as it didn't look good. Knowing that her first grandchild was fast improving, my mom caught a plane and flew back to Amarillo to be with her dad during his last days.

Early the next morning friends drove down from Amarillo and surprised Jennifer and I with their visit. While they were there my son made a soft cooing noise and smiled. "Ooh look he's smiling," our friend said.

A nurse in the room said "Babies do that when they pass gas."

Our friend shook her head and said, "He's still smiling. Look at his face. You'd think someone had just whispered a joke in his ear."

Ten minutes later the phone rang. I answered and received word that my grandfather had passed away and in that instant I knew that someone had indeed whispered in my son's ear.

The writer in me wants to end there. To say my grandfather had one private conversation with my son. That would be a fitting ending to this story, but I'd be leaving out a big part of how this event changed me. I'd be leaving out my nervous breakdown.

That night as my son continued to improve, I thought about my grandpa and all he'd meant to me, and the fact I never got to tell him good bye, or tell him about my son. As I wallowed in regret for the things I hadn't done, and pity for the things I'd never get to do, I broke inside.

I shattered, and the shards of my sanity were jagged like a smashed piece of pottery.

I felt the darkness taking hold so I left my son's room and found a dark waiting area where I could be alone. I stared out the fourth story window that overlooked the lights of Dallas. I stared outside and cried. I cried, my body shook, and when Jennifer came looking, she found me curled on the floor in the fetal position. She tried to console me, but in that instant I couldn't be reached. She cried and brought a nurse who tried to pull me back out of the murky depths, but again, I was unresponsive.

They sent for the hospital clergyman, but he was unavailable. On some level, I knew everyone was concerned for me. and even though I wanted to get it together, I simply could not find the strength to do so.

Then he showed up. My new friend. The father of the little girl who'd had heart surgeries every few months for her entire life. He sat with me an talked, low and steady. His voice, his words, his sharing of his experiences, wrapped around me and pulled me back.

He'd been in the same position I was. He'd broke down after the third or fourth surgery. He's crumbled under the pressure of feeling he had to do it all and yet not be able to. Like me he'd slept by his babies bed, tried to be strong for his wife and child far longer than either his body or mind was able. Like me, he'd finally hit bottom and realized parenthood was not something you had to do alone. He talked me back from the abyss I put myself in and I am sad to say, I never got to thank him.

Given the circumstances, the doctors and nurses allowed us to leave early. The very next morning we checked out and drove home to Amarillo.

We buried my grandfather the very next day and it still saddens me that he never got to spend anytime with either of my boys.

I am very blessed to say my son has not had one iota of heart trouble since the surgery.

He is the same boy that took not one, but two years of tap and ballet classes, and just finished his first season of flag football. He is a very vivacious and happy child and I owe the cardiologist and surgeon from Children's hospital more than I could ever repay. As I do my angel of mercy. Deep into that long night in Dallas he talked and slowly brought me back. He gave me back my sanity and sadly I never got any contact information. I could not find him that morning we were sent home, but I can only hope his story has turned out as well as mine. I think of him often and I pray that his little girl's smile is ever bit as bright as my son's.