I have done very little of note this weekend. Last night, I spent the night with a friend and former co-worker I hadn’t seen in a while. His wife was out of town and, since mine had to be up extra early this morning for a Girl Scout trip, we spent a glorious evening bitching about work, talking about guns, and partaking of gratuitous quantities of our drinks of choice (his–Miller Lite, mine–Maker’s Mark). A grand, testosterone-laden night, if I do say so.

Still, as it always does, writing fought its way back into my conscious mind on the drive home and I came up with a decent idea for a short story. I got home and have spent a couple of hours researching online about Civil War cemeteries. That got me to thinking that, although I’ve been to nearby Shiloh National Battlefield a few times since I moved back to Tennessee, I’ve never posted pictures on here.

So, rather than bore you with details of my story (most of which I haven’t worked out yet), I’ll put up a few of my favorite shots of the Shiloh Battlefield Park:

Here’s one of the flag in the middle of the National Cemetery:

Here’s a tombstone in the same cemetery (I love the flower):

A shot of the business end of a cannon:

Nice shot of one of the monuments (this is the background on my laptop right now):

The Confederate monument, with a defeated Victory flanked by Death and Night:

A row of cannon’s facing the famous “Hornet’s Nest”:

The top of the Tennessee monument:

One of the five located Confederate trenches where the defeated dead were buried as many as seven deep:

View from the inside of the reconstructed Shiloh Church, from whence the battle took its name:

Cannon in shade:

A shot of a tourist wrestling the local wildlife (actually, my son Nic and his stuffed bear):

Ravine where Gen. Albert Sydney Johnston died after being shot in the leg. Johnston is the highest ranking military officer ever killed on U.S. soil:

The “Bloody Pond” where many soldiers and horses came to die during the battle. So many died here, legends say, that the waters ran red with their blood. (No, that’s not blood on there in the picture–it’s red clay from beneath the pond stirred up during recent rains.):

Gates to the National Cemetery (for my illiterate readers):

Here’s a shot of the cemetery itself:

So, there you are. It’s odd that such a peaceful place–Shiloh even means “place of peace” in Hebrew–could have been the site of nearly 34,000 brutal deaths over less than two days. I did like the park so much I included it a couple of times in Dead and Dying and, as I mentioned before, will likely do so again. A place with such an emotional and bloody history really speaks to the creative mind.

I sometimes walk from my house to the coffee shop where my wife is working while finishing her Master’s. On the path I take, I pass the following street sign:

Um . . . yeah.

On another topic, I should finish my yearly task of scoring applications for the Kentucky Governor’s Scholars Program either today or tomorrow, allowing me to return to my regular writing and LJ schedule. I will certainly have a few more things to say about this years applications and will also begin chronicling the submission process for Cursed Blessings or whatever I decide to call it tomorrow.

So, if you have been patiently awaiting my return to regular blogging, you really need a hobby.

Good–Reading has begun on the Governor’s Scholar applications and I’m currently on number 120.

Bad–The applications thus far have been models of mediocrity. I’m already tired of people telling me how music makes them unique. Let me say it again–if you play the piano, you are not unique. Lots of people play the piano. If you play the harpsichord, that’s a little better.

Good–The boss complimented me to his boss today at work, saying that I’m well on my way to becoming a “superstar”. Neve rmind that I’m better than most of the people in the position above me and am the go-to person for everyone in the store. I’m well on my way.

Bad–A little old lady returned a bottle of perfume this afternoon. Unfortunately, when I picked the bottle up to check it out, I didn’t know that she was returning it because it leaked and spilled approximately a quarter of the bottle on my left hand and forearm. I left the store smelling like a French whore and was nearly overcome in the car on the way home, so much so that I had to roll down my window and stick my hand outside at one point just so I could breathe. It was so bad that I thought about doing the Evil Dead “lop it off at the wrist” just to save myself from inhaling any more. I’ve washed my hands a dozen times and taken a long shower and, thankfully, most of the reek is gone, but not all. Not nearly enough.

Really Bad–Perfumes are mostly alcohol. I have a rather nasty cut on the index finger of my left hand. You do the math.

Good–I’m over my cold from last week and feeling much better.

Bad–My son, and now my wife, have both been struck by a stomach virus and, as I write this, I feel some churning and bubbling going on in the belly. It’s probably nothing, but . . . .

Good–The edits for the new book are done and I’m ready to start submitting to agents.

Bad–Still no title I like. I think from now on, I’m doing things in reverse, starting with one of those random title generators you see on the web. I already have titles for the next two books I plan to write, but not for the one I’ve already written. Leave it to me to do things the hard way. Perhaps I can use the high I’m getting off the spilled perfume to come up with something good.

I have been struck down again by a vicious cold and, in light of my being a bit off thanks to the cold medicine I’m taking and my general state of ick, I’ll fall back on another episode of my failings as read and corrected by my readers:

I like these sentences & the image, but not here in this context. It seems too light for something so serious as conveying condolences for the death of someone’s parent.

Since Micah has a temper and normally would lose his cool here, it would be nice to emphasize the change in him by having his voice be low, cold, yet strong and cutting. Hey, The Man With No Name wouldn’t need to raise his voice. Just my two cents.

Lee, parts of this chapter are really good. (I liked the imagery of the carbon copy smiles, the mob movie similarity, and the drops of sweat to replace the tears that would not come, for example.) But there are parts that I think weren’t up to your standard, specifically in the first part of the chapter.

Don’t get me wrong – this chapter is fine. It is just not your best. And I think you now know me well enough to know that if I didn’t tell you that it could be better, then I wouldn’t be your friend (and I’d be staying up at night feeling deceitful).

This, as is the sentence in parentheses below, are fine, but they imply a more detailed, logical thought process.

I like the chapter and how you allowed Micah to grow into the man he becomes – it seems natural that while he is successful as a business man, he remains stagnant – a lonely teenager still living in his childhood home – in his personal life.

Lee, this is excellent.

I like this image a lot, but it is too reminiscent of the Native American in the anti-pollution commercials from the 70’s, so I’m afraid it may seem cliché.

Lee, I think HW’s voice is much clearer and stronger than LE’s. In this chapter, HW speaks with some great imagery (the 6 as sheep; cutting them down like wheat) – it makes his voice very distinct. Not meaning to be repetitive, but I wish you can do the same for LE.

This was great. Just the right amount of touches that make your writing so you, enough background and explanation of the woman Lauren has become & the life that she’s chosen, and enough spookiness to make me reconsider reading anymore of this now that it’s night and I’m all alone in the study.

Here, I’m thinking of pace. Mindy just received an intense shock – so I’m inclined to make faster the actions in the parenthesized sentence – and shorten the sentence – to match her feelings &/or thought process.

Again, another solid chapter.

Also, in this chapter, previous chapters, and in one of the last chapters, you have the friends refer to themselves as “misfits” and “outcasts.”

We need to talk.

Brandon was the smartest kid in school, Mindy was the second smartest, a great athlete, and voted most likely to succeed. John was charm, wit, and fun. Lauren dated a star football player. I never got the impression that these kids would be considered outcasts or misfits in high school. As a true high school outcast & misfit, I would’ve traded places with any of those guys any day, any time, any where. So either we are using different definitions, or your high school was waaay cooler than anything I can imagine.

This set of comments closes out part one of my manuscript and takes us a few chapters into part two. Think about that for a moment–I’ve posted now five fairly long lists of comments, picking out only those that had some meaning outside of context, and have only now drifted into the second half of my book. It’s quite telling that so much was wrong with my story before I sent it out and I’m very glad that I had my readers to look it over before I sent it out to agents. I always want to catch my mistakes in rehearsal rather than during the actual performance.

I would particularly like to point out the comment about the Native American anti-pollution ads. I am barely old enough to remember, vaguely, what she is talking about in that comment, but I would never have made that connection on my own. An agent though, many of whom I plan to query are older than me, would likely make the same link and ruin that moment in the story. This is the value of not only having other people read your book, but also choosing a diverse group of people who can catch a lot of things that you as the writer, with your limited experience and knowledge, might miss. Google can’t simulate the jumps made by the human mind.

You may also notice, if you have been following along (yeah, right), that there are a few more positive comments sprinkled in among the oopsies with this set. I’ve said before how important these are to a writer, propping up our tottering egos, but it’s important to notice how often these come when they come at all. I know I did a much better job with part two of the book because I found many more of these gems amidst the comments. They not only helped me feel good about the work I did, but also let me know where I needed to focus the bulk of my rewriting. If parts of your book are not that good, not good enough to garner some positive commentary at any rate, you are looking less at mild cutting or changes than at significant rewriting, something I’ll discuss in another post. Perhaps tomorrow’s.

Anyway, I’m on the front end of a four-day weekend, one that I will use for recuperation and, hopefully, finishing the involved work needed to correct the remainder of the comments offered above. I’ll have probably one more post of comments before I wrap them up and begin the actual query process. In the meantime, I’m also planning on heading up to Kentucky this weekend to see my girls, especially after my middle daughter broke her arm at school this week. I’ll have the younger two with me on the road and, with their mother staying at home, I’ll have an interesting trip.

I have a lot of things going on right now–last of the edits, new book(s) started, working eight days in a row, Valentine’s Day, ice cream calling my name, etc.–but unfortunately none of them are very interesting to write about. I’m too tired to think of anything worth posting about outside of what I’m doing either, so I’m left with no alterantive but . . . . REO Speedwagon!

If that doesn’t make you want to write urban fantasy, nothing will. As for me, I’m going . . . out.

Tonight was the “Me and My Guy” dance for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop. A good time was had by mostly all and, to top it off, yours truly won the “Pretty As a Princess” competition thanks to some wonderful spackle . . . er, makeup . . . work by my daughter, Devyn, and her friend, Aly. I was positively ravishing and, if someone gets me drunk enough or sends enough money, I might even post pictures. Assuming that no one else posts pictures, that is, and I’ve already begun to systematically murder each person at the shindig tonight who even touched a camera.

The highlight of the evening, though, had to be myself and a local doctor sitting in our respective chairs singing “I Feel Pretty” as our daughters made us up to look like French whores.

Really, does life get much better than that?

The weather here in northwest Tennessee was unseasonably nice today, so the two younger children and I walked over to Bethel so I could get my first bit of tennis in for the year. I haven’t played since last summer, so I was anxious to get back out and see how much rust had developed on my shots.

Quite a lot, it turns out.

The day was very windy, on top of warm, so I’d like to blame that for my poor performance. The truth, however, is that I’m not as young as I used to be and it takes me a bit longer to get in playing form than it did back in college. I played for an hour and a half or so–not really even played, just hit around with the kids–and now I feel like I would be in less pain if I ripped my arm off at the shoulder and ground coarse sea salt into the wound. I tore my rotator cuff about seven years ago, serving during a doubles match, and it’s never quite been the same since. Once I start playing more regularly, it will loosen up, but for the first month or two, it will feel like I’m coming apart at the seams every time I play.

I do enjoy tennis, though. I started playing in high school, taking it up as rehab for a blown knee from baseball. By the time I graduated, I was better at tennis than baseball and played for a semester in college before the school realized that there weren’t enough people there interested enough to support a full team. Now, I enjoy playing matches when and where I can find them. I even enjoy playing by myself, and keep your comments on that to yourself.

Now, one last thing is what my son said while we were at the tennis courts. In response to my daughter’s question of what a piece of plastic attached to the net was used for, Nic replied, “That’s for dirty, dirty balls.”

Okay, now you can comment away.

I’ve seen a few of my Facebook friends posting lists of 25 random facts about themselves that others may or may not know. I liked this idea, so I thought I’d do one so as to contribute to the overall understanding of who I am. Unfortunately, who I am is very strange and potentially unstable, so it probably wasn’t such a good idea, after all.

Still, here’s what I wrote . . . and it’s all 100% true:

1. I have written three full novels and have come very close to gaining representation from a literary agent (I’m still waiting on a couple of them reading my manuscript).
2. The novel I wrote last year involved a man dying of cancer who befriends a vampire who is squatting in the abandoned house behind his–immortal meets imminently mortal.
3. I have a new novel currently in the editorial stage.
4. I have a dear friend in Buffalo, New York, who helps me edit my writing. I’ve never met her and we’ve talked on the phone once. Aside from that, we only communicate through regular emails.
5. I’ve written a short story about Russian Roulette as a spectator sport.
6. I met my wife at Nerd Camp (aka the Kentucky Governor’s Scholar Program).
7. I am have served on the Statewide Selection Committee of said Nerd Camp for six years now and review nearly 2000 applications from all over Kentucky every March.
8. I was at my wife’s first wedding, but I wasn’t the groom.
9. I have four children–three girls and a boy–the oldest being thirteen and the youngest (the boy) being five.
10. I majored in Psychology in college and, although I work in retail management, I still provide counseling services for one client, even when he doesn’t listen to me.
11. After playing baseball in high school, I switched over to play tennis in college and still play when ever I can. I am pretty good too, despite being a bit pudgy these days.
12. I have worked for Wal-Mart, OfficeMax, Toys-R-Us, Dollar General, Shoe Carnival, and Walgreens.
13. I once slammed an armed robber to the floor and helped hold him down by sitting on top of him until the police arrived. He is now serving 18-20 years in prison for the offense.
14. I once busted a shoplifter while wearing a Santa Clause suit, even going so far as to pin her against a counter when she got belligerent. When I saw a little boy standing nearby, I explained that “she’d been naughty.”
15. I’ve torn rotator cuffs in both shoulders.
16. I’ve been really, really drunk one time. That was enough.
17. I like Elton John more than any other straight guy you know.
18. I started writing after picking up Stephen King’s book “On Writing” on cd while driving home from a job in St. Louis. I’ve listened to that book approximately 200 times.
19. I’ve moved 21 times since birth, including the time I moved from an upstairs apartment to a downstairs apartment in the same building.
20. All the music from my last wedding was from “Phantom of the Opera” and I picked it out.
21. I’m a huge fan of the show Dark Shadows, which most people my age and younger have never heard of.
22. I’ve never been to Florida.
23. My wife is 4’11”; my oldest daughter is 5’6″.
24. My favorite movie of all time is “Army of Darkness” starring Bruce Campbell (“Gimme some sugar, baby!”)
25. I keep a blog that I am not updating sorta regularly–http://leesmiley.livejournal.com

Well, I’d write more, but the people in the white coats are coming to get me. I hope they brought the right size straight jacket this time.

For Christmas, my father-in-law sent us a spectacular set of kitchen knives. Something we very much needed. There is much cooking in our household (my wife is a culinary genius) and no kitchen is really complete without a wicked set of knives.

The problem with new, wicked sets of knives, however, is that they have not yet learned to recognize food from thumbs.

While preparing to dissect a chunk of sharp cheddar with our shiny new cheese knife, I accidentally let the blade slip as I was picking up the small cutting board. Instead of peeling off a delectable bit of fermented curd, I cut an inch-long gash in the tip of my thumb that now throbs as though my heart is just below the wound instead of the bone I so neatly struck with the blade. Furthering my suspicion that my heart relocated without my permission, the cut bled for nearly an hour despite steady pressure.

Still, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, these are good damn knives! Look how cleanly it cut through the skin and how long it took before my thumb felt like it was on fire!”

And speaking of fermented curd, I continue to cover my writing laziness with more Monty Python . . . .