It has been an educational year for me on a number of fronts, but particularly with my writing, and as this will be my last post of the year, I will now share some of the knowledge I have gained:

Damn it, I AM good enough. Yes, I received a few rejections this year, but I did make it as far as I could towards finding an agent without actually finding one. I had three full manuscript requests for Dead and Dying and, though I still have not heard back from two of them, found the rejection of the third very promising. More importantly, I’ve written a better book this time around that, logically, should increase my chances of landing an agent in ’09.

I need to be better. Yes, I am good enough, but I’m not really content to stop there. This book is better than the last which was better than the one before. I’ve also written what I consider my first decent set of short stories that I hope to find a home for soon. I can see the improvement in my own writing–hear the improvement–and I’m really looking forward to see how much better I can get this year. I’m going to need to improve a great deal if I hope to pull off the story I’m writing next.

Query letters are not the enemy. I’m kind of sorry I wasted my chance with the first three agents I contacted with a sub-par query letter. Still, had I not done just that, I don’t think I would have taken the time to reevaluate what I was sending out and would have never received the requests I did. There are writers out there who cry that query letters are much harder to write than the stories they represent, but I say that if this is the case, you probably didn’t spend enough time or effort on the fiction. Writing is writing; either you can do it or you can’t.

There’s not as much difference between my day job and publishing as I thought. Forget that the industry revolves around people telling stories. Forget the creative aspect of it, the mirage of the reclusive author working at the roll top desk penning his masterpiece. Forget all that propaganda bullshit we’ve been led to believe about the writing life. It’s a job, just like nursing or construction or, dare I say, retail management. It’s a business and we as writers should never, ever forget that. It’s not about how great the story is, it’s about how marketable it is. Nothing personal, all business.

I am not alone. There is support out there for those of us willing to look for it. Writers are, by nature of our jobs, creatures of solitude. We make our magic alone, performing for an audience of none and with little chance of reward or recognition. The great thing about this is that there are so many others in the same boat, so many fantastic writers who are not only willing to help others achieve success, but welcome the opportunity to share some of that creative energy with a like soul. People around us, even our spouses and closest friends, don’t generally understand what we do or why we do it. Often, we don’t know ourselves, but it’s sometimes great to talk about it with someone just as confused as we are.

I can’t NOT write. When I first made the decision to attempt a novel, the main thing I wanted to know was “Can I write?” Now, a couple of years down the road and with three completed manuscripts to my credit, the question is “Can I stop?” The simple answer is no–I don’t sleep well when I’m not writing and I feel a general sense of “blah” when I’m idle that goes away when I’m working on something new. It’s become my drug of choice and I don’t think I could give it up. I don’t want to give it up.

As I said, this is the last hooptedoodle I’ll be posting for 2008. My 9th wedding anniversary is New Year’s Day and I think my wife would frown on me taking time away from her to write blog posts about writing that not even she is going to read. So, to anyone out there who stumbles by, have a wonderful close of 2008 and a better opening of 2009.

. . . the material controls us. I think that’s the way it is for most writers. Even those of us who outline the smallest detail, build up pages and pages of research, plan out exactly how many words it will take to tell the story, we tell the stories that must be told, the ones that stick in our heads with little needling barbs.

So, instead of plunging into another tale of fantasy or horror, I’m looking to begin a literary fiction novel over the next week or so. This is a prospect both scary and exciting for me, a challenge that I’m not sure I’m up to, but one I’m anxious to try. I have great ambitions for what I want this story to be, but then again, notice this post’s title.

I’ve had misgivings about starting this one, the biggest being that I’m just not sure if I’m good enough yet to write it. I’ve read a lot of fantastic writers over the years, a lot of fantastic stories, and I want this one to read like a Chabon or a McEwan. To accomplish this, I’ll have to reach much deeper into that creative center of my mind. The writing of the authors I most admire has a poetic quality that I’m not sure I have yet, but that is what I’ll need to find if I’m to consider this effort successful. This is what scares me–that I’ll spend so much time and creative energy, build up so much hope for this project, then fall short.

It’s been a very tough year for a number of reasons, my writing being the least of them. Sure, I failed this time to get an agent, but I learned a lot about the process and feel much better about my chances with the new book. I got very close, yes indeed, but that only makes the ultimate result more bittersweet than if I had received only rejections. I will break through–of that I have no doubt–but the question is when and with what piece of writing. Hope is the one of the few things I have in abundance.

So, while I tidy up some details from Project Superhero (title pending) and wait for the feedback from my proofreaders, I’ll work on getting my mind right for this new, exciting, terrifying step in my writing.

One of the downsides of working in retail is that you never really get to enjoy Christmas. For the most part, the holiday season is a manic blur that begins roughly near the beginning of October and concludes–fizzles out, really–about now. By the time it is all over, I’m too tired to remember what happened and whether or not there was anything to enjoy about it.

That makes me sad. I really enjoy Christmas–I think–and it always depresses me about how quickly it passes. It’s like watching your children grow up every year–it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s coming, it’s gone. Most of all, I miss the sense of peace and happiness that other people in different lines of work seem to enjoy. Spare me the horror stories of family get-togethers and bad gifts and the like. Consider yourself lucky that you have time to create those stories. I had to work all day Christmas Eve and Christmas Day and would have loved to have had the time to spend with my family. You only get so many Christmas mornings with your children and each one I work is one wasted.

This is part of the reason I wanted to write a set of Christmas short stories–to hold onto a little bit of the season before it was gone again. I think another part is that retail tends to take all the meaning out of the season. Everything is about putting up sales figures and reducing inventory rather than looking back on the year. I’m too busy listening to customers and employees complain to hear carols or bells. I’m too busy building displays at my store to decorate my own house. I’m too busy selling gifts to other people to worry about buying some myself. I’m too busy, simply, to enjoy any of it.

Someday, I would love to be in a position where I could take off a couple of weeks this time of year to just enjoy it and not worry about sales figures or inventory levels. I would love to travel and see friends and family during these few weeks. Moreover, I would love to celebrate my wedding anniversary–New Year’s Day–without being exhausted from the week before.

Yes, Christmas has come and gone, and I missed it again. Maybe next year.

I finished the latest round of edits on Project Superhero last night and, this morning, began the process of sending the completed manuscript out to a select few readers who have expressed interest in telling me what’s wrong with it. Of course, I’d be happy to know what’s right about it, but that won’t get me any closer to publication.

I’m very happy to finally be at this stage in the game. I’ve taken the novel as far as I can for now and my role, until I start getting some of the feedback in, is to sit back and wait. Or, better yet, to start something new. When I reached the last page last night and felt pretty good about what I had done, I had a giddy moment of realization: “Hey, I can start writing again! Woohoo!” As much as I enjoyed going back through my novel, reliving the good parts and fixing the not-so-good parts before they could reach the eyes of the public, the best part of the writer’s life is composition. There’s nothing better than sitting down in front of that blank computer screen and starting over after a job (hopefully) well done.

I was reading in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird that once she sends a manuscript off to her proofreaders that she can hardly stand it until she hears back from them. She goes on to say that she knows people who can just jump right in on the next project, but doesn’t understand them. I’m one of those people. My job, as I see it, is to take the novel as far as I can and then hand it over to others to take further. I’ve been through Project Superhero (still no title, sigh) so many times now that I can quote whole passages, but I’ve come to the point where I must pass it on to new eyes. Now that I’ve done that, my job is not to sit and wait, but to start anew. If I wait a month to hear back from my readers, that’s a month wasted that could have been used writing something else. Hopefully, something even better than what I just sent out.

I will probably spend a few weeks working on some shorter stuff–perhaps a few shorts and maybe a novella, but I’ve already been thinking about what novel I’ll do next and I’m still undecided. The one I want to write is the one I feel like I’m least ready to write, but I felt the same way before I started Project Superhero. Maybe that’s a sign. If so, it’ll be a total departure from anything else I’ve ever written, a challenge both exciting and scary as hell. Regardless, I’ll be very glad to get back to the blank screen.

Okay, at long last, here it is–the Christmas story. For those of you reading for the first time, this was supposed to be one of twelve that I planned to write and post on here on consecutive days leading up to Christmas Day, but life and work and a certain novel got in the way and the rest will have to wait for next year. This was meant to be the last, even though I wrote it first, and I’m at least happy to have completed this one.

So, without further ado, I give you “The Present”.

All was in place. Thomas scanned the few objects lying on the table before him, checking that he hadn’t forgotten anything. The pen, the paper, the loaded gun—that’s all he would need, really. He thought about adding a cigarette or the bottle of Maker’s Mark in the cabinet downstairs, but he had quit smoking before he turned twenty and the bourbon now seemed unnecessary. No, he thought, these things would do.

He could hear the sounds of Christmas carols from across the street. “O, Christmas Tree” drifted like snow through the thin window glass. The Bakers were having their usual family Christmas, complete with drunken caroling that often lasted until the wee hours of the morning. The house itself stood as a testament to seasonal marketing—not an inch of building or lawn, was left undecorated by lights, holly, or inflatable figures. A fleet of cars and trucks stood parked in the snow outside the house, dark beneath the street lamps. The sight of them, setting aside their familial differences, their past offenses, for one night of good cheer and peace, made Thomas envy them.

There are some offenses, he knew, that could never be set aside.

As “O, Christmas Tree” ended in a wave of raucous laughter, the music for “Silent Night” started, oxymoronic at such volume. Thomas turned away from the window, afraid that anger and longing would distract him from his plans. He closed the curtains, blocking out enough of the music so that only a warbled melody penetrated his room.

Sitting down at the table, he took up the pen. He had been thinking of what to write for some time, had completed mental draft after mental draft, each one evolving from the previous one into what he hoped would be a perfect suicide note. Even during the summer, right after Carla had left him and he decided to take his own life, he was scripting his final words in his head. At work, during showers, during his meals alone, usually frozen dinners or take out, he would drift into a trance-like state of composition, his expression blank as he called forth the words that would be his lasting legacy, the only one he had to replace the one he had destroyed.

Now that the time had come to conjure the words to paper, however, they would not come. As though suspended in the ether, unwilling or unable to take physical form, they floated loose in his head, rejecting his desire to put them in some practical order. He held the pen over the paper, commanding the language to pour out, but the pen and the hand holding it remained still. In frustration, he threw the pen down on the table and, seizing the paper, sent it airborne with a flick of his wrist. He watched as the pieces fluttered and settled in various points around the room, scattered as his life had been scattered for the past year.

He sat still for only a moment, looking out the frosted window, before he rose and started to gather the loose paper. Once he had it all in one pile again, neatly arranged and lying next to the pen on the table, he sat back down. He stared at the paper as though willing the words he wanted to say to appear on the blank pages, even if he was not sure what those words would be. Only when his eyes began to water did he even blink.

After nearly a half hour, he picked up the pen again. He resigned himself to knowing that anything he wrote down would not be a sufficient explanation. Then again, he reasoned, there really wasn’t anyone who needed an explanation. Carla was gone, Brady was gone. Soon, he would be gone, too.

He picked up the pen again and pulled one sheet of paper from the top of the stack. Before he had time to change his mind or second guess himself, he wrote. His hasty scrawl was barely legible, but anyone finding his body would be able to decipher the words and that was all he cared about.

I’m sorry, the note said.

It wasn’t much, but Thomas knew it was enough. It was all he had to say.

He folded the note into thirds and held it down flat with his hand on the table. He was afraid to put it into an envelope, afraid that it might be cast aside as a meaningless piece of mail by whoever came to investigate the sound of a gunshot or, he grimaced, the stench. He spent a long moment wondering how his body would look after a few weeks of decay. The house stayed cold in the winter, but he doubted it would be cold enough to prevent at least some of his tissues from breaking down. Looking up, he regarded his image in the mirror across the room. He had lost a significant amount of weight over the past year–somehow food didn’t seem as appealing after what he did to Brady–and the face staring back at him, pale and haunted, was not his own. That face, the one he saw now, was the face of his son’s murderer.

Thomas took up the pen again and thought for a moment who to address the note to. Finally, he settled again on the basics, scribbling “Whoever” on the upturned third of the paper and pushing it to the center. He lay the pen carefully next to it, lined up at a perfect angle to both paper and the edge of the table. Somehow, he figured if the only thing left untidy when he was done was himself, the situation would look better for him.

He glanced back up at the mirror again. The murderer’s face was smiling at him as if to mock his grief, his loss.

Anger welled up inside Thomas, entwining with his grief to a thread of steel that gave his hand strength to take up the gun. The feel of the Ruger in his hand, the evil metal against his skin, made him almost lose his nerve. He knew that what he was about to do was cowardice, a luxury he did not deserve after what he had done to his son, yet cowardice was a mild thing compared to that monstrous act. The events played through his mind again, as they had thousands of times over the past year. He fought against the memories, but they came on anyway, forcing him to relive them again one more time before he made his last, desperate attempt at escape.

“What was that?” Carla asks him, he voice accompanied in the dark by her hand on his shoulder.

Thomas hears the noise and is up at once. He does not bother getting dressed, afraid of the noise even the pajama pants at the foot of his bed might cause. He imagines himself pulling on one leg, then tripping as he tried to pull on the other one.

Instead, he pulls the Ruger from the drawer in the bedside table. Flipping the safety, he pads to the bedroom door. The door is shut, but the house is new and the doors still open on quiet, well-oiled hinges. He eases it open, feeling the breeze attacking his privates, and steps into the hall.

The only light he can see is the flickering glow from the Christmas tree downstairs, radiating up the stairwell like a neon aurora. He looks to the other end of the hall and sees Brady’s door is still closed. The boy could sleep through just about anything, he knew, and he is now very glad of the fact.

Ruger in hand, he comes to the corner of the stairwell and peaks around, looking down the long, walnut bannister. At once, he sees the shadow amidst the blues and greens and reds dancing across the living room. He had seen on the news only a few days ago how burglary rose sharply in the days leading up to Christmas, thieves looking to take advantage of well-lit loot, packaged for the taking. He considers going back to the bedroom to call the police, but the Ruger makes him bold and he starts down the stairs.

He takes the first step down in absolute silence. He can hear the rustling of the wrapped presents down stairs and wonders if he is in time to save them all or if the thief has already managed to get some outside. He takes two more steps down before the idea of an accomplice, someone who might be waiting just around the corner at the bottom of the stairs, comes into his head. Distracted, he slips off one step, his foot landing hard on the step below and nearly causing him to lose his balance.

The shuffling downstairs stops. The shadow grows longer as the figure comes to the bottom of the stairs.

The gun goes off as the shadow materializes into a dark mass below him. He does not remember, even later, pulling the trigger, but he knows he must have. The dark shape crumples to the floor.

Thomas all but leaps down the remaining stairs in one stride. Only when he reaches the bottom does he realize what a terrible, terrible mistake he has made.

Brady, the front of his Spiderman pajama shirt stained dark in the thin light by blood, looks up at him. Thomas looks back, seeing not pain or shock or confusion.

Looking in his dying son’s eyes, he sees remorse.

“Just wanted . . . to shake . . . a few . . . .” Then, he is gone.

Tears streamed unchecked down Thomas’s cheeks as he brought the gun up. He had contemplated many times over the previous months whether to go through the roof of the mouth or through the temple, but now that the moment is upon him, the choice is made almost automatically. He sticks the barrel of the bloodthirsty Ruger into his mouth, his teeth chattering against the metal from his uncontrolled sobbing. He closes his eyes.


At first, Thomas thinks the voice is a continuation of the memory, or some other memory seeking to plague him in his moment of ultimate weakness. His eyes flash open a moment, then close again. His finger brushes the trigger.


He his sure he has heard it this time, physically heard it, the sound originating from somewhere outside his head. His eyes open and, gun still in his mouth, he looks at the door.

Brady, whole and alive and unhurt, stood in the hallway. Instead of remorse on his round face, though, Thomas now sees confusion and fear in his son’s expression. The boy rubbed his eyes in a childish, innocent way, but the concern did not fade when his hands dropped again to his side.

Thomas pulled the gun from his mouth. The tears streaming harder now, he reaches up to wipe them away, more afraid of what he was seeing than of a violent, sudden death. His hand lowered the gun to the table and, by the time it reached the wooden surface, he was too weak to hold it any longer.

“Brady?” he asks in a hoarse whisper.

The boy turns away from him and disappears down the hall.

Thomas is on his feet and at the door in less than a second. He plunges through the door and looks around, his fear growing.

He spots Brady descending the stairs. The boys gives him a quick glance and raises a small hand, beckoning him to follow.

Four long strides bring Thomas to the top of the stairs. He looks down the steps for his son, but does not see him. Instead, he sees the familiar flickering light in a myriad of colors. The memory of the previous year crashes upon him like rough waves, but he rails against it, the fresh image of his son, alive and there, a talisman against his grief and guilt. He moves down the stairs at nearly a run and tumbles down the last few steps, landing painfully on his knees.

The living room was exactly as it had been the day his son had died. Three stockings, their white cuffs now rimmed at the top with a brown layer of dust, hung over the mantle above the gas fireplace. Stacks of presents rested beneath the artificial tree, all collecting their own appearance of neglect.

The tree itself, though, was the most striking thing in the room to Thomas. For a year, since Carla had unplugged it as the police investigators questioned him about Brady’s death, the tree had been dark, standing sentinel over all the gifts the boy would never open. Now, the tree’s lights twinkled with renewed life, awakened after their long time of mourning. The lights cut into Thomas, making him wince and shield his eyes.

After several long moments, Thomas adjusted to the light and looked at the tree. It was beautiful–Carla had done an excellent job of decorating it so that every bulb, every ornament, seemed in the exact place it was meant to be. What had served for so long as a reflection of his own inner darkness now filled him up with a feeling so long forgotten that he barely recognized it.

The feeling grew stronger when he saw Brady standing next to the tree. The boy remained silent, but looked at his father with absolute love. Then, he turned and looked down at the presents before his bare feet, arranged just as they had been the previous Christmas. He looked back at his father, smiled, then pointed down behind a box that, Thomas knew, contained a new bicycle his son would never ride.

Brady smiled again, wider this time, then vanished.

“Brady?” Thomas whispered. “Brady, come back.” When his son did not comply, he whispered again.


Thomas knew his son was gone again and he leaned forward on the floor and wept, his tears soaking into the carpet. He lay sobbing for a long, long time, feeling his year-old wound reopened and bleeding. When he could no longer bend at the waste on his knees, he rolled on his side and cried until he could cry no more.

At last, he sat up. The silence around him was complete. He guessed the party across the street, now miles and years away in his own mind, was over, the guests either gone home or passed out drunk.

In his renewed loss, he almost forgot what the image of Brady, for he knew that it was only an image, was doing before he disappeared. He pulled himself across the floor, his legs still too weak to support him, waded through the presents, and moved the wrapped bicycle out of his way.

A small box, crudely wrapped in yellowing Sunday comics, lay tucked behind the larger package. It looked as though half a roll of tape had been used to seal the paper and a label bearing four laboriously printed words stuck to the top.

To Daddy. From Brady.

Thomas took the package in his hands, regarding it as the greatest find in the history of mankind. He cradled it against his chest, feeling with his fingertips the extreme care his son had taken in wrapping the gift so completely. Part of him did not want to unwrap it, afraid of undoing his son’s work, but he knew that Brady would not have pointed it out had his intention been other than for his father to open it.

Thomas worked on the gift for several minutes, removing intact as much of the wrapping as possible. Regardless of what lay within, the wrapping itself, the love that seemed to radiate from it, meant more to him than anything else he owned. The paper slid off, retaining most of its shape save for the open end, revealing a small, unmarked shoe box, also sealed with too much tape. He went around the lid, pulling up each piece of tape individually, then lifted off the lid.

At first, he could not tell what it was. He unwrapped the tissue paper surrounding it and saw a picture frame, constructed of popsicle sticks, glue, and tape, spill into his open hand. The picture inside was of him and Brady, father and son, at Disney World, the shiny sphere of Epcot in the background behind their matching Mickey Mouse caps. Colorful foam letters at the top spelled out “World’s Greatest” while more letters at the bottom finished with “Dad”.

World’s Greatest Dad, Thomas thought.

He thought he had finished crying, but the frail, handmade object proved him wrong. He cried until he could no longer breath, lying curled up beneath the flickering lights of the tree, finally falling asleep, the popsicle frame still clutched to his chest.

When he woke, daylight streamed in from outside. Christmas Day had dawned and outside he could hear the renewed revelry from the Baker residence. The tree above him still blinked and the popsicle frame still rested in his hand.

He stood up, his muscles sore from his wracking sobs, and made his way to the stairs, the frame still clutched to his chest. His feet ascended the steps, driven by sheer will, and took him into the bedroom. Taking the note, he crumbled it with his free hand and dropped it into the waste bin. He picked the gun up by the barrel as though afraid it might seek of its own free will to end what he had begun the night before. He carried it back downstairs, keeping it far from the popsicle stick frame, and took it outside. The dusting of snow bit into his bare feet, but he barely noticed. Making his way around the corner of the house, he opened the trash can with the hand holding the Ruger, then dropped the gun in.

Back inside, he sat in the living room, holding the frame, almost afraid to look at it in case it turned out to not be real.

He picked up the phone and dialed. Carla answered on the second ring.

“Merry Christmas,” she said, not sounding merry at all.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I’m sorry for everything.”

There was a long pause. “I know.”

“Can you come by later? I . . . I want to talk.”

Another long pause. “Yeah. I guess I can do that.”

“That’d be great.”

They hung up and Thomas set the phone down, feeling for the first time since killing his son, that, maybe, all was not lost. Maybe, he thought, sometimes all you needed was love and hope.

And lots of tape.

I was planning on posting my lone completed Christmas short story, the only evidence of my grand incomplete plan to post a dozen stories over as many days leading up to the big day. That fell through due to conflicts with Project Superhero and now, while preparing to post the short, I have reached another obstacle.

My laptop ate the damn story. Swallowed it whole. Like a Christmas cookie. Crunch! Gone!

Now, I still have the story on my desktop (where I do the majority of my composition), but my desktop is at home and I am not. I am, in fact, at a local 24-hour laundry with WiFi as my internet connection at home is down. This is a frequent even at my house and I usually hang out at a local park with similar wireless service, but the temperature outside is about 20 degrees and that’s not conducive weather for accurate typing.

I do, however, plan to post the story tomorrow. I have to work the next three days (yes, including Christmas) and, though I’ll be tired, I’ll have enough in me to finish the edits on Superhero and post the Christmas tale.

Assuming my laptop’s not still hungry.

As someone hoping to publish fiction in the near future, I keep a close eye on the industry and the news surrounding it. Just as I receive numerous emails from various retailers I watch, I also read several blogs and receive a few emails relating to publishing. For the most part, they have all been depressing–poor sales figures, missed quarterly earnings, and job losses galore–but for a writer attempting to break in, the news from the publishing world has been bordering on apocalyptic. The world of books, as we know it, is coming to an end thanks to your friendly neighborhood digital age.

So, what does all that mean on the microeconomics level where I sit in my chilly study and write my little stories?

That depends. The mood among unpublished writers like me tends to very pessimistic. In the forums and on the blogs I’ve read recently, the growing consensus is that new work should be put on hold until the economy turns around. The argument in favor of this tactic is that publishing houses, firing staff left and right and, in some cases, shutting down all acquisitions for the foreseeable future, have made it virtually impossible for a new author to break in. There are exceptions–there are always exceptions–but the odds of getting published now are possibly lower than they have been since a guy named Gutenburg developed a little machine to start the whole ball rolling.

The publishers, their editors sweating behind their desks and wondering if that last manuscript they bought, the one that didn’t do as well as they projected, might be the one that gets them sacked, begin a domino effect that makes the agents more choosy on who they decide to represent. An agent’s time is valuable beyond the comprehension of most mortals and taking the time away from their proven clients to try someone new is more of a luxury than a necessity. Every agent would like to find that diamond in the rough, but right now, amidst the financial chaos, those diamonds are having to shine a lot brighter, but cut a lot better, and already be set in a nice engagement ring to get noticed.

Now, all of this stems from one tragic truth–people aren’t buying enough books. With no Harry Potter to bolster sales, no Dan Brown page-turner to reel in the casual buyers, books are dying at the retail level and the rest is just a side-effect. Fingers are being pointed in every direction–the economy reducing disposable income, the publishing houses putting out worse books, the writers producing crap in a 10-point font. Regardless of the cause, people are not buying books the way they need to in order for things to improve.

And all of this, every last bit of it, is okay with me. I’m fine with it.

Having been in the business side of things for a long time, I understand the struggles of retail. When the economy is bad, people buy less. When it is good, they buy more. That’s what makes the world go ’round. The exception to this time-honored tradition is the item that causes such a stir in the culture that we have to fork over those hard-earned dollars just to be included in that special club of ownership. It’s the Tickle Me Elmo. It’s the Wii. It’s the ShamWow. It’s that little sperm cell of marketing that gets in and impregnates the egg of our fiscal responsibility. In short, it’s all about the product.

New writers can break in, even now in these dark times. Of that I am sure. The real question is this: how good is your product? Do you have the story that must be read or is it a testimony to your own ego? Are you savvy about the business side of publishing or do you think one semi-creative idea should be enough for the world to beat a path to your door? Do you have a passion for writing, regardless of whether you can make money at it, or do you think if Stephen King can do it, anyone can? If you answered the latter on any of these, please step aside for those of us who are serious. All you are doing is taking up valuable time and energy from those the rest of us want to reach.

Whether or not you believe in evolution, there is something to be said for survival of the fittest. I want competition. I want to know that I’ve risen above other worthy writers to see my name in print. In business–and I assure you, publishing is only partly about the creative process–competition is what determines success and, when a company or individual falls short of that competition, failure.

So, instead of sitting on my recently completed manuscript, waiting for better times, I’m throwing caution to the bitter wind blowing through here and sending away. Even if one book is chosen for publication next year, I want that one book to be mine. I have no time for people who don’t want to be the best in what they are doing, particularly in something they profess to want to do. I want to win every award, top every list, and be the best writer I can be regardless of what challenges lie beyond my study door. Success is measured in increments, sure, but only in increments that are achieved, not those where we fall short. Next month, after the publishing world has recovered from their holiday breaks, a number of agents will receive a carefully crafted query letter talking about my new book and I hope at least one says, “This is that diamond.” Lord knows I’ve spent enough time cutting and shining it.

Anyway, as I put away my soapbox, I’d like to announce my one completed Christmas short story should, barring some unfortunate delay, be posted on here tomorrow. It’ll be the first fiction on here, so I’m very hopeful that someone will read it and perhaps even comment. So long as the comment is positive, of course.

Today: Sunny, high of 73.
Tomorrow: Rain, high of 51.
Sunday: Sunny, high of 31.

I’m all for living somewhere with four distinct seasons, but I don’t necessarily need them on consecutive days.

Project Superhero is nearly two-thirds edited this round and, with one more major rewrite to go, I think I should hit my goal of having the thing ready to ship off to my readers by Christmas. I’m happy to say that I’m catching at lot of the mistakes I would have missed before thanks to my new tactic of reading, even if that means silently mouthing, the words as I read them. It’s remarkable how absurd certain things can sound to the ear, things that looked great on paper. It’s truly the equivalent of having a new pair of eyes to evaluate the manuscript, even before another person gets hold of it. By the time I finish a novel, I’m so tired of looking at it that I can’t trust my eyes to tell me the truth of what I’m seeing. I learned this the hard way on my last manuscript, noticing how many stupid mistakes I made and missed. This time, though, I think my manuscript is much cleaner and I’m catching a much higher percentage of the errors that are there. Either that, or I haven’t learned as much as I thought. Either way, my readers will let me know.

Tomorrow, it’s back to work for the weekend. I have more pictures of local houses decorated to extremes for the holidays, but due to a problem with my camera, those will have to wait until tomorrow.

Today, I thought I’d post a few of the aforementioned pictures of the neighbor’s Christmas lights. These people are very serious about decorating for the holidays and start on the first of October in time to be ready for the McKenzie Hometown Christmas celebration beginning December 1st.

Here’s the view from the corner of my backyard:

Here’s the front of the house. The little building to the right has a sound system set up that plays Christmas music you can hear from some distance away:

Another view of the front. There are two tables on the front I’ll get to in a moment:

On the two tables, they have entire Christmas villages set up in miniature:

And the other one:

And one with the flash (these people are serious):

And a final one from their backyard (they give tours):

There is another house I want to take pictures of nearby, so I may do that one tomorrow if it’s not raining here. I really enjoy Christmas despite my years of working in retail and I wish I had the time to decorate like this. I guess I’ll just have to save my time and discipline for writing.