November, November

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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.

More Than A Feeling

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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.

 

The Salt Mines

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Dear Readers,

I can’t believe the first two weeks of the semester have already gone by. That means only fourteen more to go! It’s odd, really. Given how much pain I was in over the summer, I dreaded going back to school this fall, something I’ve never done before. As it turns out, I was so busy that first week to feel much of anything other than exhaustion. Then we got a three day weekend owing to the Labor Day Holiday. I woke up hurting that Saturday morning and have ever since. Still, being in front of a class does provide me with a needed distraction, so I’m making due as always.

So what’s on tap for the future? Well, my work in progress Molly’s Song got rather badly stalled for over a month. I’m starting to buckle down and work on it again though, albeit at a slow pace owing to my other commitments. Currently, I have written 19/32 chapters. I hope to have it finished by Christmas Break. I’m also working on something kind of fun, though to what end I have no idea. I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing a radio adaptation of So Others May Live. I don’t know why, really, since we don’t really do radio dramas in the United States anymore. But who knows. Maybe BBC4 Radio might be interested since they still produce new radio programs.

In November, I’ll be giving a public lecture entitled A Terrible Beauty: Ireland in the Great War as part of a local library’s Friday lecture series. I previously gave a presentation about the Romanovs a couple of years back and over one hundred people showed up to listen to me beat my gums for an hour! It made me feel kind of important. Or maybe the people were so bored that day that hearing my lecture actually sounded like it might be fun. But Ireland and World War One are both subjects I enjoy talking about, so I’m looking forward to the opportunity. If any of you are in the Greater Houston area and would like to come meet/hear me, I’ll post specific details in another month or so.

I’m waiting for the final audio files of So Others May Live to approve and submit to Audible, so hopefully in the very near future the audiobook will be available for your perusal. It’s going to be really good. I can assure you of that fact. In the meantime, if you are looking for something to listen to, try the series Inspector McClevy, a radio drama set in Victorian Edinburgh. It ran for 12 seasons (though they call them series across the pond) and it is available on Audible in 2 series sets. I binge listened to it this summer. My wife listened to some of them with me, but refused to hear any more after one episode ended with the line “Never trust a red haired woman.”

If it seems that I am blogging infrequently during the semester, it is because I am. Given all my limitations, the long days I put in make it tough to come up with new content. That said, I will do my best to have a new post up every weekend. And, of course, any special announcements will garner their own post too.

Until next time, friends,

L.H.

Summer’s End

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Dear Readers,

I have reached the end of the summer, at least for me. I start the fall semester on Monday morning. Up at 0500 home around 1630. Five days a week. Two hour round trip commutes. Five face to face classes. One online class. Ten office hours (which I spend in vain waiting for a student to visit). Paperwork. Committees. Grading. You get the idea. Back to the salt mines it is! I enjoy it because it keeps me busy. I’ll blink and it’ll be Thanksgiving. I thought now that the summer is over, I might reflect on how I spent my time off.

Starting on the Monday after final exams in mid-May, I embarked on writing the first draft of Molly’s Song. Initially, it was to go to my editor in mid August. I was making tremendous progress writing 3K words a day every single day of the week. I hit the 2/3rds point and only had seven more days of writing left when I realized there was a fatal flaw. A flaw so fatal that all that I could do was ditch the entire draft and start over from scratch. I took one day off to refocus and then started anew. For a while, I made steady progress and was only a couple of weeks behind schedule. Then I hit a snag more due to exhaustion from so much writing. I took two weeks off and planned on getting back to work, but then my summer classes started.

I enjoy teaching summer courses at the college. Usually, I teach during Summer 2 so that I get the first half of the summer off, which is what I did this time around. Summer classes are always good and so are the students. It’s a bit more laid back an atmosphere than what you see during the fall/spring semesters. Some of the students are ours (by that I mean the community college where I work) and others are visiting students from universities who are taking advantage of our cheaper tuition and stellar faculty. I usually have some familiar faces in class who took a different course from me in the previous spring. This summer was no different. I thoroughly enjoyed my students and the courses and they all did very well.

I got very little writing done due to the teaching load during Summer 2, but I did manage to take Molly’s Song past the halfway point. I had to push my editorial deadline back to mid September. And then it happened. Mid-way through the summer course, I developed severe, crushing pain in my knees. Given my existing destroyed spine, any time something happens that affects how I walk (like damaged knees), it sets of a cascade of pain that eventually makes my back lock up. It was bad. Very bad. To make matters worse, the mental demons I fight grow stronger when my pain does. On the day of final exams for the summer, I broke my pinkie finger. For the next week, I moved as though I was in a fog. I completely shut down and I didn’t so much as say a word to my wife despite sharing a small (900 sq foot) house with her. She understands and so when I get like that, she gives me my space.

I managed to get out for our bi-annual before the semester lunch with my best friend (really more like a brother) AJP. He always manages to make me feel better. Usually by sending cat pictures. The following Monday, I went to a knee doctor who prescribed some anti-inflammatory creams for knees which does seem to be working a little. Tuesday was an in-service day at the college, so I spent the morning listening to some presentations. One was on positive professional and personal pathways which I badly needed to hear. I determined to take that to heart and slowly the cloud over me began to dissipate. Wednesday we had division and department meetings which are always fun because we have some good people in both. Thursday was a work day and so I prepared my stuff for the upcoming semester. Friday was a two hour drive down to the main campus for convocation followed by a two hour drive home, with a pit stop by my office along the way. Which brings us to today.

I’m still in a lot of pain (usually my pain levels range from moderate to murderous and I’ve been on the murderous end of the spectrum for several weeks now). Each night I have to encase myself in ice. I liberally apply my prescription cream in the morning and again in the evening. I have some medications too which I take at night. It takes the edge off, but nothing more. That’s okay because the pain reminds me that I’m still alive. I’m trying to stay focused on the good and not the bad. I’ve dove into a huge Turkish historical drama called The Magnificent Century on YouTube in the evenings. (It has a hot redhead in it). Of course, I have Anastasia to help me in the evenings. My wife Elizabeth also helps. I will refrain from answering if I love my cat or my wife more.

My spring semester was very difficult since I fractured another vertebrae right before the semester started, though it was six weeks before I finally found out why I was in so much pain. This time around, it is my knees and back. It seems like there is always something before each semester starts. However, I’m going to try my best to keep a positive outlook. I’ll try to get through one day at a time. Given how busy the long semesters are, I probably won’t finish Molly’s Song until Christmas Break and will send it to the editor after the new year. I’m probably looking at a release in the Fall of 2020 rather than in the Spring of 2020 like I originally intended. That’s okay though because it is going to be a damn good book. Better even than So Others May Live.

Oh, and the Red Sox have played like chicken fried crap this summer too, which also sucks. No World Series for them this year. Ah, but football season is here! My Saints have a preseason game tonight. High school football (my true love) starts next week. And also tonight, we have college football start. Football….how I’ve missed thee! My wife is a Kansas City Chiefs fan. So y’all pray for me.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to meeting my new students on Monday and Tuesday, seeing some of my former students, and hanging out with my co-workers who are seriously kick ass people to be around. They, and my students, make going to work fun. I don’t think of teaching as a job any more than I think of my fire service career as a job. They say if you do what you love then you’ll never work a day in your life, and I haven’t worked since I was a kid sacking groceries at the Krogers.

So for all you teachers or students following me, I’d just like to say “May your classes be good or your detentions short.” Stay tuned for updates concerning the audiobook version of So Others May Live. In the meantime, for those of you who like to listen to novels, the greatest novel ever written, which I’ve mentioned a few times on my blog, Quiet Flows the Don, is finally being released on Audible! I think it is the abridged version, based on the length, but it will be out on Monday and you can find it here. Some Sholokhov is better than no Sholokhov! You better believe I’ve already pre-ordered it.

If you’d like more regular updates than you’ll probably get on my blog over the next couple of months, follow me on Instagram. Or Facebook. Though I am also on The Twitter, I really don’t use it to post very much. Instagram and Facebook are your best bet. Also, if you’ve read So Others May Live, I’d greatly appreciate it if you’d consider leaving an honest review on Amazon. Even if you hated it, that’s fine too. Tell me why. I’m a big boy. It won’t hurt my feelings. Should you enjoy podcasts, I urge you to check out All Bad Things. It’s a podcast about disasters.

Until next time, take care of yourself. And each other.

L.H.

The Wildest Ride Yet: My 2018 in Review

Dear Readers,

New Year’s Eve is the time to reflect on the previous year and, in my case, it was perhaps the most momentous year of my life. If not that, it was certainly the biggest roller coaster that I’ve ever ridden thus far in my 40 years. I’ve struggled with trying to find a way to sum it all up, but I think I’ve gotten it down. So without further delay, here is my 2018 Year in Review, presented in word and picture.

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The morning after surgery. One word. Pain.

If you read my 2017 Year in Review post, I referenced having been hospitalized on Thanksgiving with an obstruction in my small intestine. As they did not know the exact cause, they could not say with certainty if it would return. Well, as you can probably guess, it did. In mid-January I did the usual in-service week stuff for the college before starting my temporary full time professor job. It was the usual meetings, professional development, and convocation. The weekend before classes started was a long one, with Monday being the MLK Day holiday. Everything was set for me to start classes on Tuesday. Sunday, however, I began to feel the familiar pressure/pain in my stomach. I gave it some time, thinking it might ease up on its own. It didn’t. By 2 a.m. I was vomiting and so back to the ER we went. The diagnosis didn’t take long. It was another obstruction. Owing to a flu outbreak, I was unable to get into a room until Wednesday morning and spent the time in the ER instead. On Wednesday, the surgeon saw me and said I was booked for a rather large operation on Tuesday. I spent the time in between roaming the halls with my IV pole and visiting with the nurses. I was unable to eat anything, but that had me on TPN through a Picc line, but I still dropped a massive amount of weight, bad because I’d already lost a lot due to the issue in November. The surgery turned out to be a shorter operation than they thought it would be. I had a few complications post op, and so it was quite a while before I got to go home. On the day of my discharge, I had been in the hospital for nineteen days.

2

My first “meal”. Forgive the skeletal appearance. This is what happens when you drop fifty pounds due to stomach/intestinal issues!

I started to work officially on Monday, February 5th. I think my students were surprised to see that I actually existed. I owe a big thank you to my colleagues who covered my classes for me until I was able to healthy enough to come back. Throughout the month of February, I never felt entirely “right”. My stomach still bothered me from time to time. I was still dropping weight. Finally, by February 28th, I felt more normal than I’d felt since November. So imagine my surprise on March 2nd, our tenth wedding anniversary, when I ended up in the ER with, you guessed it, another bowel obstruction. I was only there for a week this time, but I was told that I needed the big surgery now. My surgeon agreed to let me try and make it until the semester ended. Also, while in the hospital I had a phone interview for a permanent position at the school and the week after I got out, an in-person interview. Luckily, I got the job.

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Professing…..1940s style!

The rest of the spring passed in a blur. I spent the time teaching, watching TV in bed at night, and editing my novel which I completed in 2018 in preparation for sending it to a professional editor in August. Before I knew it, final exams were over and it was time for the surgery. They weren’t lying when they said it would be a big operation! I was in the hospital for 8 or 9 days afterwards, but did okay. I was up walking around as fast as they’d let me, though it hurt like hell as I had a six and a half inch incision in my abdomen. I weighed 130 pounds upon discharge. Keep in mind, I’m 6’4 and weighed 185 before this all started back in November! Thankfully, as I’m writing this, I’m back up to 160, though gaining weight has proven to be difficult. All these months later, I feel decent. I’m sincerely hoping I never half to go through anything like this again. But only time will tell.

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Your’s truly on TV.

Enough of the health stuff! In June I visited the Metropolitan Research Center in Houston to delve into the archives they had on the Gulf Hotel Fire of 1943 which killed 55 people in Houston. I was able to successfully track down the mass grave where the unidentified victims were buried, and set out to see if I could get funds to place a marker. A reporter from KPRC was kind enough to air a story on it close to the anniversary of the fire. I was able to get a little support, but what I’m doing now is exploring the process for getting a historical marker on the site of the grave. That will be an easier and cheaper option.

In August, my book went off to the editor for a developmental edit. I spent much of the fall semester working on the revisions she suggested. It took a bit of time and a few more drafts, but in December I sent it back in for the copy edit. Those revisions have been done and round two of the copy edit is scheduled for Jan. 7th. Once that is complete, it will be submission time. I have a small number of indie presses to query and if I strike out, then I’ll go the self-publishing route. Be warned. I’m planning to throw one hell of a 40s themed launch party when the book hits the market, whenever that might be. (Sooner if I do it, longer if a press does it.) Also on the writing front, I’m halfway through my second novel which is set during the Civil War. That one should be ready to publish by early 2020.

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Anastasia provided editorial “assistance.” 

As a Red Sox fan, I would be remiss if I did not mention their having won the World Series. It was an exciting summer for sure. On those long summer evenings, my wife and I always sit outside and listen to a game on the radio. Thankfully with SiriusXM and their handy app, I can get the Red Sox home radio feed on my phone or in the car. That’s useful when you live in Texas and not Massachusetts. Given the tendency of the Sox bullpen to blow saves, my sense of delight at winning the Series was only exceeded by my sense of shock. The New Orleans Saints are having a banner year too. So let’s hope at this time next year, I can talk about how they won the Super Bowl.

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Votes for women!

When the new semester started in late August, I got to teach an in-service session on how to communicate emergency procedures to your students. I think it went pretty well. Or at least I didn’t get any feedback that said “you suck”, so I’ll take that as a win. It was kind of an odd semester, and I never really felt like I’d hit my stride. I’m not sure why, exactly, but that is how it was. In December, my wife and I attended Dickens on the Strand in Galveston with a friend of mine. We drank beer, got our picture with a suffragette, ate fried food, and had to have my wife drive us home after having too much fun. At the end of the semester, I got a “present” of sorts from the college. A new office!

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An office with a view.

My back injuries still hurt, and always will. A little more with each passing year, but such is life. I would say I’ve gotten used to it, but there really isn’t a way to get used to living with severe pain, though you can learn to cope with it. So I’ll still enjoy my New Year’s Eve brandy and cigar on my front porch as I ponder the past year and wonder about what the upcoming year will hold. I’ll spend New Year’s Eve and Day watching the Twilight Zone marathon on the SyFy Channel, which has become a tradition since I no longer have to work holidays.

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A brandy, a cigar, and a dream of the future.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. My wild and crazy year. I don’t do the whole “New year, new me” thing. In 2019, I’ll be the same profane, sarcastic prankster that I’ve always been. I do have some goals, though. Fortunately, they are all obtainable. They are as follows:

  1. Publish So Others May Live
  2. Finish Book Two (as of yet, untitled)
  3. Edit Book Two

Here’s wishing you a safe and happy New Year.

L.H.

Another Semester in the Books

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Dear Readers,

Another semester has come to a close. I haven’t had much time to blog over the past few months. I taught seven courses this semester (my contracted 5 and 2 overloads). On top of that, there were meetings, office hours, and working on revised drafts of my novel (now in the copy editing phase).  Now I have a month off, and I plan to spend it playing Red Dead Redemption 2 and wrapping up my novel copy edits. I think I can manage to do both.

In other news, I moved into a new office at the college this week. When I got hired full time, there wasn’t any available office space, and so I had a cubicle. It was a nice, big cubicle, and I had it all to myself. But when they told me that I could have a real office after a professor retired, well, I leapt at the chance. I got set up yesterday, and now it resembles a museum of fire helmets. Some mine and some antique ones. Students don’t generally make use of office hours though, and I spend ten hours a week staring at the phone waiting for it to ring, or gazing at the door waiting for a student to appear. When neither happens, I wander around the office suite and pester my co-workers.

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A couple of weeks ago, we (myself, my wife, and a friend) went down to Galveston for Dickens on the Strand, an annual Victorian Era festival. My friend and I donned Yankee blue for the trip. We had a lot of fun. So much fun, in fact, that my wife had to drive us home! There were lots of people dressed in Victorian clothing. We even got our picture taken with a suffragette! The food was great, as was the beer. Next year, I’m planning on going as a 19th Century firefighter.

Apologies for the short post, but the Old West beckons. I’ll see you on the trail, pilgrim. And look forward to another post within a few days about my favorite Western fiction.

L.H.

As the World Turns….

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Dear Readers,

It’s been a rough semester so far, but not necessarily in a bad way. I’m teaching six courses (five in person and one online). With a two hour roundtrip commute and office hours, meetings, etc, I’m pretty well wiped out when I get home. My evenings are spent laying on ice packs which keeps my back pain somewhat tolerable and watching TV with my cat, Anastasia. She prefers shows with cowboys and horses.

I’m also working on the edits to my novel So Others May Live. I got my content edits back a month or so ago and I’ve been going through them. I’m almost done with my first pass through, then I’ll shelve it for a month. After that, I’ll give it a top to bottom read through and make a few more changes. It goes back to the editor for the copyedit in late November. I’ll spend Christmas making corrections, then send it back for the final round in early January. Hopefully it’ll be ready to submit to a few small presses that I’ve identified which specialize in historical fiction. If I strike out there, then plan B will be to self publish.

The book is getting closer and closer to being a reality. Someday, perhaps sooner than you think, it’ll be ready for perusal. One things I’ve learned is that finishing a book is a marathon, not a sprint. I think by the end of the process it will have gone through seven or eight drafts.

L.H.