November, November

maxresdefault

Dear Readers,

November is my least favorite month of the year. It’s that point in the fall semester where, though the end is in sight, paperwork, grading, and emails tend to pile up. It’s also the month where we get our first cold spells of the year. As I type this, what we call in Texas a “norther” is on its way. Tomorrow the high will be in the 70s before plummeting 30 degrees in a matter of hours. And Tuesday? Best not to think about that as our low will hover near freezing. The cold is very hard on my damaged spine, and it makes me very stiff, swollen, and in pain. But at least I have a heating pad, right?

November is also National Novel Writing Month which I have taken part in from time to time. I’ve only ever won it once, and that is when I finished So Others May Live two years ago….that’s right two years! I finished the first draft the day before Thanksgiving, 2017, and then ended up in the hospital Thanksgiving night, the first of many visits during that nightmare nine months of surgeries and accompanying misery. Of course, editing, cover design, etc, took time, and so that’s why the book wasn’t published until March 29, 2019. The problem with National Novel Writing month is that you go into it with high hopes of success, and then feel like an abject failure if you can’t get 50K words written by November 30th. Or at least I feel that way.

That said, I do not need 50K words to finish Molly’s Song, and I hope to have the first draft done by the end of the month. Then it’s time for my own edits before it goes off to my editor in March for the first pass, copyedit in July, and I hope to have it out next fall. That’s about six months behind where I originally anticipated releasing it, but still, it’ll go from first draft to print in just over a year, which is faster than my first book. Let’s hope, anyway. As I am well aware, life has a funny way of interfering with our best laid plans.

Though I am plotting my third novel, which I will start writing in May, I actually have a smaller project lined up for December. A short-ish noir novel set in a fictitious town in Texas during the Great Depression. (I am a huge fan of both film noir and noir writing, so it is an experiment I want to try). Since this will come in at around 60K, I can get it written during the month off between semesters.

So I’ll keep muddling along and counting down the days until the semester ends and I can go back to living the full time writer’s life for a month.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

The Decline of the Sweet Science

winback2_1024x768

Dear Readers,

Today (Sunday), I got caught up on the boxing action that I missed yesterday. I have a DAZN subscription, but with other things to do on Saturday, I could not watch the fights. And seeing as how the Canelo match didn’t start until after midnight CST, I would have probably fallen asleep anyway. So this morning, as I watched Ireland’s own Katie Taylor win a decision over Christina Linardatou of Greece, I began to ponder the history of la dolce scienza alongside the history of the country. For those who scoff at the importance of sport on a nation’s shared cultural memories, I would only state that you cannot disconnect the history of sport from the history of a people. Indeed, they are as intertwined as two lovers in a bed. Each generation has it’s own sporting events that become part of the shared history of that generation.

I am both fortunate and cursed when it comes to the sweet science. I was born just in time to remember the last big heyday of the ring as king. Though the superbouts of the 80s and early 90s are but a distant memory now, they live on within the memories of those who watched them. Ah yes, who can forget the first round of Hagler v. Hearns? Or in 2003, the epic Ward v. Gatti I? But, reader mine, I’ve also lived to watch the decline of the art of bruising as well. With the rise of MMA, UFC, and other combative sports, boxing has entered a long, slow, and unfortunately it seems, permanent decline.

But why does the sport still hold such appeal over those of us who still cling to the glory days of the past? That’s a difficult question to answer. Boxing is an urban sport, a sport of the working class, of immigrants, and of the downtrodden. Consider in the late 19th and early 20th century, boxing dominated the sporting landscape of the Irish and Italian immigrants in America’s cities. It ignited the flames of ethnic and cultural pride and superiority for the same reason that people tune in to watch the Olympics. How many Americans actually watch, for example, women’s gymnastics when it isn’t the Olympics? But every four years, tens of millions tune in and suddenly turn into gymnastic experts on social media. Why? Because in the mind of the fan, if the US wins, then it means that the US is better than whatever countries our team beat. Much the same is true of boxing. Though Irish and Italian Americans don’t seem to follow boxing as much, it is still insanely popular among Hispanic immigrants, proof that boxing is, at least in that part, still true to its roots.

I’m at the same time, a blue collar and working class kid, having grown up in a blue collar town and worked as a firefighter/arson investigator, and also an ivory tower sort, having become a history professor as a retirement job. I usually don’t mention my interest in the sweet science to faculty colleagues as in times past, when I let it slip that I was a fight fan, I was viewed with looks somewhere between disgust and dismay. Individual tastes vary, and boxing is no different. It has nowhere near the wide following that it once had, when top bouts aired free on network television. In my opinion, PPV has helped kill the sport’s popularity by taking it away from a wide audience, not to mention the cost prohibitive factor for many fans. That’s why I’m grateful for DAZN, an app which allows you to watch somewhere around 100 fights a year for the cost of one big pay per view event ($99). Maybe that is what we need to reconnect with the masses, though I fear the damage has already been done.

Truthfully, Dear Reader, I dearly wish they’d carry boxing on the radio! The UK still airs match commentary over the radio, but it isn’t done anymore in the States. In 2015, SiriusXM inked a deal with Premiere Boxing Championships to bring bouts to satellite radio, but only, to my knowledge, aired one weekend’s fight card. Oh well, at least YouTube has tons of audio coverage of bouts from the 1930s-1950s. That’s comforting to this old boxing fan.

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves, and each other.

L.H.

 

My Halloween Tradition

download

Dear Readers,

What do you do for Halloween? I have my own little tradition that I’ve done for the past few years. On Halloween night, I get in bed, turn out the lights, and listen to the original War of the Worlds broadcast on CD via my retro looking radio/CD player. Given the fact that my house was built in 1932, it’s quite possible that the original owner may have listened to the live broadcast back in 1938! The original air date was October 30th, not the 31st, but I prefer to listen on Halloween. It gives me something to do, and by having all the lights out and being in bed in the back of the house, I don’t have to deal with trick or treaters. An added plus! If you’d like to join me on this Halloween night, you can listen to the broadcast on YouTube where, thankfully, it hasn’t been pulled by the YouTube police!

Though the stories of mass panic and hysteria because of the broadcast were greatly exaggerated by the newspapers, this does still stand as one of the most significant radio broadcasts of all time. If you haven’t heard it yet, why don’t you give it a listen?

Until next time, take care of yourselves, and each other.

L.H.

Remember the….what?

the-alamo-1460909158NaX

Dear Readers,

When I was a baby, I took my first steps in front of the Alamo in San Antonio. My grandparents lived on Alamo Avenue in Port Arthur. I watched every Alamo movie that was available at the time (usually while wearing a coonskin cap) and had a large collection of children’s books about the siege and battle. In one of my upper level college history courses, we had to do archival research for a paper. I wrote a demographic study of the defenders of the Alamo and visited the Alamo Library to do my research. My minor was creative writing, and for my first class on the subject, my short story was about…wait for it…the Alamo. Later, in my screenwriting class, I wrote a feature length screenplay for an Alamo movie. One, I might add, which was quite a bit better than the screenplay for the 2004 Alamo film and it would have made a better movie, but I digress. When my girlfriend, now wife, and I took our first trip together as a couple, we visited San Antonio and stayed in the Crockett Hotel. She’d never seen the Alamo before, and I got to give her a tour. Though the children’s books and coonskin cap have long been put away, I still have quite a large collection of non-fiction related to the Texas Revolution and the Alamo.

Back in my undergraduate days, I often thought that one day I’d write the epic novel of the Texas Revolution. It would be a Lone Star equivalent of The Killer AngelsAll Quiet on the Western Front, or From Here to Eternity. In fact, during my junior year, I got to work as an intern at the Sam Houston Memorial Museum across the street from the campus of Sam Houston State University, and had a lot of fun talking to visitors about Texas history. Many times I’d start this novel and give it up. I’m at the point now that I know I’ll probably never get around to writing it. Molly’s Song is nearing completion, and then after that I have a tale centered around the Russian Revolution to tell. When that book is done, Molly will get two sequels as hers is part of a projected series. And then, only then, could I possibly have time to write anything set in the Texas Revolution. However, given how much time it takes me to write and edit one book, I probably won’t live long enough to get around to it. Furthermore, the great novel of this time period has already been written. Check out The Gates of the Alamo by Stephen Harrigan.

But I’ve found a way to work the Alamo into Molly’s Song. How, you ask? Angelina Dickinson was a little over one year old when she, along with her mother, survived the fall of the Alamo. Angelina had a rough life with failed marriages and rumors of prostitution. And guess who happened to be in New Orleans at the same time Molly is? That’s right! The two have a brief encounter on Canal Street in the spring of 1864, shortly before Angelina returned to Galveston. So at least there is that!

Until next time, friends, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

 

An Update

office

Dear Readers,

I hope you enjoyed my interview. Talking about my own writing process was a lot of fun. The thing to keep in mind is that all writers have different approaches to getting a book completed. Study the writing habits of as many of your favorite writers as you can, and then pick and choose the bits that work for you and incorporate them into your own style. Some like to write in the mornings and others in the middle of the night. You know when you work best, so do that rather than try and mirror the exact same daily schedule that someone else follows.

If you live in the Greater Houston area, I cordially invite you to join me at the Deer Park Public Library at 11:00am on November 8th. I will be giving a lecture as part of their Friday Lecture Series on Ireland in World War One. (Note that I’m doing it under my real name rather than my pen name and in my full time persona as a history professor). It should be fun….or at least not boring. The topic is not without controversy, as anything in Irish History leans toward the controversial side.

This has been a rough semester. The roughest, in fact, since my original injuries in 2012. When I fell and fractured another vertebrae in January before the spring semester, I thought the horrendous pain at that time was the worst yet. However, by late March, I was back to normal and felt like I usually do. I’m in pain all the time, but the levels are usually manageable. I had a great summer and felt as good as I’ve felt since 2012. But then came August. Nothing happened to cause it, but my daily pain levels are through the roof. Whereas I once had good months and the occasional bad day, I now have bad months with the occasional good day. We are past the halfway point in the semester and I’ve only had one week where I felt relatively normal. It’s gotten so bad that for the first time ever, I had to miss a class because of it. I can see the finish line for the semester coming into view, and I’m pushing myself to get there and then use the month off to try and recuperate as best I can. Being 41 and facing another few decades of constant pain is not a cheery prospect at all. Especially since it seems to worsen with each passing year.

On a somewhat more amusing note, I am currently serving a 7 day sentence in Facebook Jail. Why? Because apparently a World War Two meme poking fun at Nazis is “hate speech”. (Though actual Nazis are allowed to post with impunity, but that’s another matter). Two friends were suspended for the same meme as well. All three of us appealed and Facebook overturned the other two suspensions, but not mine. They claim I have violated Community Standards on ten occasions which is absolutely not true….as evidenced by my Support Inbox which only has this one “violation” in it. Honestly, I’m kind of tired of Facebook anyway. If it weren’t for my cat Anastasia’s page and my Author’s page, I really wouldn’t use it at all. Once upon a time it was fun, now it’s just people arguing with one another.

My Instagram account is popping though. If you haven’t yet, go here and give it a follow! It’s got cat pictures, history memes, writing related posts, and sophomoric humor. What’s not to like? I have to behave on it though since my wife follows my account.

Until next time, Dear Readers, take care of yourselves. And each other.

L.H.

More Than A Feeling

aba123ddbbaa1137a268f5f3be14803c

In my opinion, the pole was the best part of the job. Sadly, they are slowly disappearing. A travesty, in my opinion. I was just as excited to use it on my first call as on my last. 

Dear Readers,

One day in class, a few semesters ago, I was teaching about the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire when a student raised his hand. As students rarely tend to ask questions (or stop by to visit during office hours), I stopped mid sentence and bid him to speak.

“What’s it like being a firefighter?” he asked.

I started to give him my usual stock answer which doesn’t actually the question because it’s a difficult one to put into words. He interrupted me and said, “No! I don’t mean the bullshit answer you give everyone. I want to know what it’s really like.” And that got me to thinking. The feeling itself is what it feels like. I’ll explain:

It’s the feeling you get when the house lights kick on at 1:58 in the morning. You hear a bit of static from the loudspeaker and then three beeps. You leap out of bed and stagger to the pole, wiping sleep from your eyes, as you hear the dispatcher’s deadpan voice reading the assignment. “Battalion One, Engines 1, 3, and 5, Ladder 1, Rescue 1, Medic 4. Respond on Box 415. 5th Street at Franklin Avenue. Box Alarm Assignment. House Fire.” You slide down the pole, step into your boots, hitch up your pants, and shrug your arms through your suspenders. The engine coughs to life as you climb into the cab and throw your coat on. You can smell smoke in the cold night air as you pull out of the station, threading your arms through the straps of your air pack and placing the helmet on your head at an appropriately jaunty angle. In the distance, you can see a dull glow against the night sky as the radio crackles to life and you hear the dispatcher say “Confirming stills on Box 415. Report of occupants trapped.” Now, in this exact moment as you speed through the darkened streets with siren howling as you catch the reflection of your emergency lights in the vacant store front windows, there is nowhere else you would rather be than right there in that seat headed to that fire.

That feeling, Dear Readers, is what it’s like to be a firefighter. It’s the same feeling, no matter if you worked in 1819, 1919, 1999, or 2019. It’s the same feeling, no matter if you work in Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Houston, New Orleans, or the myriad of cities and towns in between. It’s the same feeling, no matter if you work in the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, Russia, China, Australia, or Antarctica (yes, there is a fire department in Antarctica!). It’s this feeling that creates the bond that transcends time or distance, and binds all firefighters together, no matter where or when we worked. It’s a feeling we crave, and a feeling we desperately miss when we retire.

And so there you have it. That’s what it feels like to be a firefighter. I’m happily retired, but I’d give anything to slide the pole one more time. Just one more time…..

And…..apparently this is my 100th Post! Thank you to all my old and new friends! 

L.H.