A Writer’s Schedule

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Dear Readers,

My semester ended with my last two finals on Thursday last. I entered grades and submitted all my paperwork. Friday morning I was up bright and early for a doctor’s appointment followed by a visit to the used bookstore I frequent. But this week starts my summer writing schedule, though I’m breaking it a bit to post this. Given the demands on my time during the semesters, I lack much time to write other than the occasional weekend, but only if I don’t have grading to do. So I must take advantage of the eight weeks I have off before the start of the Summer 2 session when I’ll be teaching two classes. So, Dear Readers, here is how my days go, no matter if it is a weekday or a weekend. I guess it gives me a glimpse into the life of a full time writer.

0730: Wake up and build up the strength to actually get out of bed while checking my social media accounts.

0800: Up for breakfast, either Reese’s Peanut Butter cereal or Wheaties.

0815-0900: Sit on the porch and drink my coffee with my feral cat buddy Cravat Cat while planning the day’s social media posts and waiting for my morning medicine to kick in.

0900-0915: Paying attention to Anastasia so that she will let me write in peace.

0915-1100: Write. With a break around 1030 or so.

1100-1130: Write

1130-1230: Break. I usually have a bit of a lie down to rest my back at this point and watch an episode of something….it varies as to what I watch.

1230-1245: Lunch

1245-1315: Sit on the porch and enjoy a Dr. Pepper.

1315-1500: Write. If I managed to hit my 3K word a day quote in the morning, then I use this time for marketing related things for my novel.

1500-1600: Break

1600-1615: Supper

1615-1730: Write, work on marketing items, or plan the next day’s writing.

1730-1800: My wife is home by 1730 and I sit outside on the porch and talk to her.

1800-1830: Shower, take nighttime medication, figure out what I’m going to watch on TV.

1830-1945: Lie in bed with ice packs on my back and watch TV with Anastasia.

1945-2045: Sit on front porch with my wife and listen to a baseball game on the radio.

2045-2200: Back in bed on ice packs. (20 minutes on, 20 minutes off)

2200-2245: Sit on the porch and listen to an Old Time Radio program.

2300: Lights out.

I’m usually up at least twice in the middle of the night for anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour at a time. Pain and bad dreams rob me of sleep. If I manage 6 hours in a night (though the are non-consecutive hours), I feel like I’ve won the lottery.

So there you have it, Dear Readers. This is my schedule from this week through mid July when I’m back to the campus for classes.

L.H.

 

Slaying the Dragon

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Dear Readers,

In my last post, I talked about the question that I hate to be asked and why it is a more damaging question than people realize. Today, I thought I might expound on it by talking a bit about my personal battle with the dragon on my shoulder; the remnants of a career in public safety which still haunt the deep recesses of my mind. I’m not going to talk about the specific incidents which helped make me this way, but rather how I dealt (or to be accurate, didn’t deal) with them. This isn’t something I’m comfortable talking about. Not at all. But I hope that by sharing a bit, maybe it might inspire others who are fighting a similar battle to know that they are not alone and that there can be a light at the end of the tunnel.

I was just a kid when I hired on with the fire department. I knew next to nothing about the world or about human nature, but boy did I learn fast. The first call that really stuck with me was my first call involving a child fatality. I remember back at the station that day, I was sitting on the front bumper of the engine. I couldn’t stop my hands from shaking. One of the old timers, a firefighter with 30 years on the job who had seen and done just about everything came over to me. He slapped me on the back and offered me a cigarette. “Here kid,” he said. “This’ll calm you down.” I’d never so much as touched a cigarette before, but it did help steady my hands. Before long I was hooked. I carried a pack in the rubber strap on my helmet. (Note this was back in the day…….long before departments cared about things like cancer. We could still smoke in the fire station and even on the trucks. It’s changed a bit since then.)

About a week later, I was still having nightmares about that call. I found the old firefighter who had so generously offered me a smoke and said “Hey, is it normal that I’m having nightmares about that dead kid? I can’t seem to get it out of my mind.” He seized my arm and rather forcibly dragged me off to a corner where no one could hear us. “Listen to me, kid,” he said, “don’t say a word about that to anyone. Do you want them to label you a psych case and toss your ass out of here? It’s part of the job. So suck it up, Nancy. Either you can do the job or you can’t.” As I was young and impressionable, I did just that.

In the many years that followed, I had my share of bad calls, as anyone in the fire service does. Dead people. Burned people. Abused people. Neglected people. I’ve held people’s hands as they slipped off into eternity. I’ve lied and told people they were going to be just fine when I knew they had minutes to live. I’ve punched vending machines in emergency rooms when the doctor calls a time of death for a patient we’d done CPR on for twenty minutes en route to the hospital. I’ve looked at the families of a deceased victim and tried to come up with something, anything to say, but couldn’t and so I turned and walked away. I’ve been splattered with just about every type of bodily fluid. I’ve seen families lose everything and held their crying children whose worldly possessions had gone up in smoke. I’ve known the thrill of making a save, but also the lows of losing someone. I’ve attended funerals of fallen firefighters. On the job, I broke ribs, fingers, and my back. I’ve learned to accept the severe physical pain I’m in on a daily basis due to injuries.

But while I was still on the job, I never truly dealt with any of that. I just ran from one call to another, to another, to another. I never took the time to adequately decompress, because, as that old smoke eater had told me, you can either do the job or you can’t. It was like a jack in the box. Pressure kept everything inside, but within a month of me hanging up my helmet, the pressure was released and out popped jack.

It all started one night in October of 2013. I woke up in the middle of the night screaming and drenched in sweat from a nightmare. The nightmare was about a call back in 2001. One that I hadn’t even thought about for over a decade. That call was just the tip of the iceberg. Within a few weeks, I was having nightmares every single night about a myriad of calls I’d stacked up over my career. During the day, I’d go teach my classes at the college and most people assumed I was my usual self. But they didn’t see what was just below the surface. As soon as I got home, I’d lock myself in my room and turn up the music to try and force everything out of my head. I stopped talking to my wife. And when she tried to initiate a conversation, I’d answer in a dickish way. Honestly, I’m not sure why she didn’t leave me as I gave her ample opportunity and reason.

And then I had a flashback during class. That was one of the scariest (not to mention embarrassing) things that ever happened to me. Then it happened again. And again. Things continued to spiral out of control. Finally, my wife sat me down and told me in no uncertain terms that getting help was no longer an option. I had to do it, or I wasn’t going to make it. I knew she was right, and so I sought out counseling. It took a long, long time to get to where I am now. Three visits a week for a few months, then twice a week, then twice a month, then once a month, and now, as needed. 15 years of trauma can’t vanish overnight. I think all told it was 18 months until I was somewhat “normal”, not that I even know what normal is anymore.

I still have my struggles. There are still days in which I’m followed around by the ghosts of victims I couldn’t save. There are still nights in which I can see them, gathered around my bed staring at me with accusing eyes.  I still get irritable or angry for no reason. I’m easily startled. I do not react well to sudden changes, especially if they involve things I’ve planned. There are days when the last thing I want to do is interact with anyone socially or at work. There are times when a person is looking at me and talking that I can see their lips moving but I cannot hear them because I’m focused behind them, where I see a scene from my FD days playing out all over again. People who don’t know me very well probably thing I’m an asshole at times. But I’m that way for a reason. I didn’t choose to be like this. It isn’t about what’s wrong with me, it’s about all the things that happened to me.

All that said, I have far, far more good days than bad days. The true hero of my tale isn’t me. I’m no hero and I never was. I just did a job and got a paycheck. I like to think I was good at it and made a difference when I could, though I more often felt like that little Dutch boy trying to hold back a flood with his finger. No, Dear Reader, the hero of my tale is my wife. The long suffering redhead who has stood by me through it all. When I say she’s my savior, I mean that literally. Read the Author’s Note in my book for a better explanation of my feelings. They are things that I cannot express to her verbally, and so I dedicated my book to her and then wrote a paragraph about her in the Author’s Note. And on the nights when I’m having a nightmare, my other girl (cat), Anastasia, licks my face until I wake up.

My purpose in writing this is to simply say that if you are struggling, know that you are not alone. I thought I could handle it all by myself, but I was wrong and I could have easily ended up making a permanent decision from which there is no turning back because of it. It takes far more courage to admit you need help than it does to act like you can face it all yourself. I also tried to channel some of my emotions into writing, both my novel and a few other pieces. If you read my book, you’ll see hints of my own struggle in both Michael and Karl’s character. I found that to be very helpful to my own personal situation.

Remember this: You are only beaten when you admit it.

L.H.

Cover Reveal!

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Dear Readers,

At long last, it is finally coming together. On Saint Patrick’s Day (fitting, that), I received three draft covers to choose from. I really liked the first cover, as it showed firefighters putting out a fire during an air raid. There was only one problem. They were in London, not Berlin. So that one wouldn’t work. I didn’t care for the second draft as it looked a little bit too much like every other World War Two book out there. Nothing made it stand out. That left me with draft three, which fortunately, I really liked.

I requested a few changes to the original version. First, I asked that the font used on the first cover be used on this one. Then, I asked that the burning corner image on the first draft be placed on this one as well. Lastly, I asked that the colors on the helmet be dulled just a bit to blend in better with the background. Thankfully, my cover designer was able to oblige me and came up with the incredible image that you see above. What you actually see there is the ebook cover. There is also a paperback cover, an audio book cover (which is exactly what you see above, just square), and a hardback dust jacket.

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Above, you see the hardcover dust jacket. The front inside flap contains the book blurb. The back inside flap has the “about the author” bit. Typically, the back of hardcover dust jackets contain snips from reviews or advance praise, etc. For mine, I decided to go with something simply and (hopefully) a bit eye catching.

All told, I’m extremely happy with how the cover has turned out. I think it stands out, but also conveys the genre quite well. I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect, as this is my first time. We are finishing up the formatting at present and the book will be available on April 18th!

L.H.

A Fun Start to the Year

2019 started out with a bang. Last week, I fell in the bathroom and landed in a seated position. I don’t have much padding there, just back and crack. I severely bruised my tailbone but worse than that, I jarred my existing spinal injuries really badly. Severe pain doesn’t begin to describe it. But I got a 9.5 from the Russian judge. I’m not super religious, but in times like these I recall a line from a hymn that says “Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say, it is well, it is well with my soul.”

This isn’t quite how I wanted the year to begin, but fear not. I’ll improvise, adapt, and overcome. It takes more than pain to keep this mick down.

Seeing it on the Radio

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Dear Readers,

I have previously written about my affection for the spoken word of the radio for sporting events over that newfangled television contraption. I have a collection of old game broadcasts, old time radio shows, commercials, news, etc from the Golden Age of Radio. It actually proved quite useful to me when I was working on my novel as I could listen to what the news was on any given day. Things like that you can work into the novel as background noise, as it were. To me, the greatest radio call of all time was in the second Schmelling v Louis fight. When the announcer proclaims “Schmeling is down! The count is five!”, you can almost here the collective gasp of millions of Americans on the edge of their seats wondering if he’d stay down. (Spoiler alert: He did.) You can listen to the exact same broadcast from that night in 1938 here. Now, my personal favorite is from the final out of the 2004 World Series. As a Red Sox fan, I am a bit biased. Hearing Joe Castiglione with the final call: “It’s a ground ball stabbed by Foulke. He underhands it to first and the Red Sox are world champions! For the first time in eighty-six years, the Red Sox have won baseball’s world championship! Can you believe it!” I still get goosebumps just thinking about it.

It should come as no surprise then, reader mine, that I also enjoy old time radio programs. I’m a big fan of the Radio Classics channel on SiriusXM (and no, this is not a paid advertisement.) So I got to thinking about which OTR programs are my favorite and why, and I thought I’d hit you with another of my favorite things lists. So here we go. My favorite OTR shows.

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My all time favorite program is Tales of the Texas Rangers. Each episode details a case which takes place anywhere from the 30s to the early 50s. It details the actions of Ranger Jayce Pearson as he tackles crime across the State of Texas. It is a bit formulaic, as many OTR programs were. He’s usually called in to investigate a case beyond the abilities of the local authorities. There’s at least one scene where he rides off on his trusty steed Charcoal. Many episodes end in a fight or shootout, and he seems to get shot quite a bit, but don’t worry, he pulls through! I’m not sure why I like this one so much. It was only on for a couple of seasons. Maybe it is because I live in Texas. Maybe it is because I’ve known some actual Rangers. Who knows? One thing I can say is that it is great entertainment.

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A publicity still of the radio cast. Note it is not the TV cast.

What can I say about Gunsmoke that hasn’t already been said? It’s the granddaddy of all OTR westerns. It launched the TV series and, in fact, continued to air on the radio for a while even while the television version was gaining traction. It could be because I have something of a crush on Miss Kitty. Anyway, what I like about this show is that it does not always have a happy ending. Sometimes, bad things happen and bad people get away with it. Furthermore, it does not shy away from controversial topics. (Alcoholism, spousal abuse, prejudice, etc) It was billed as an “adult” western. By that, it means it was for the enjoyment of adults, not that you had to go into the backroom of a seedy video store to listen to it. I urge everyone to listen to at least one episode. Odds are, you’ll get hooked.

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Just the facts, ma’am.

Dragnet. Joe Friday is the man! Fighting crime and selling cigarettes! (Dragnet was brought to you by Fatima, America’s best long cigarette.) The radio program started in 1949 until 1957. It launched two television versions (50s and 60s) with Jack Webb playing Joe Friday on screen just as he did on the radio. It’s a noire=esque program with dark nights and dark deeds commonplace. It also tackles serious issues, such as the tragic episode about a young boy who finds his Christmas present early (a .22 rifle) and accidentally shoots and kills his friend. One thing that I find of great interest is that during the first season, each episode was dedicated to a police officer who died in the line of duty. The episodes signed off with giving the officer’s name, agency, and date of death. (Mostly during the 30s and 40s). I wonder why they abandoned that format going into the second season.

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Tired of the everyday grind? Want to get away from it all? Do you dream of a life of romantic adventure? We offer you…..Escape! (cue dramatic music) That’s how this great action/adventure series begins. It rain from 1947 until 1954. Most episodes start with a person in a serious life or death situation and explain how they got there and how they extracted themselves. Many episodes were based on short stories, so if you listen, you’ll see some familiar story lines if you know your literature. It really is a great show to kick back and listen to, and it definitely lives up to its name. You’ll find yourself lost in exotic locales and, at least for twenty-five minutes, it provides you with some Escape!

So there you have it, Dear Reader. These shows are all over the internets, so you can find it for free to listen to if you are so inclined. But I’ll make another proposition. For those of you who watch football, try listening to the Super Bowl on the radio instead of watching it. I will. Even if my Saints are in it. Especially if my Saints are in it. When baseball season finally starts up again (seriously, can it start already), try listening to one game for every four that you watch. I think you’ll enjoy it.

L.H.

The Greatest Game Ever Played

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In 1958, the NFL was no where near the mega sport that it is now.  College football reigned supreme, especially in the South where there was a lack of NFL teams.  This was two years before Lamar Hunt created the rival AFL that would one day merge to give us the modern NFL.  Baseball still ruled as America’s pastime having surpassed boxing for our most popular sport by the late 1930s.  All it took was one game to capture the imaginations of the country, and damn, what a game.
NBC carried it live throughout the country though, for some reason it was blacked out in New York City!  An estimated 45 million people watched the New York Giants battle it out with the Baltimore Colts.  (For you new football fans, I’ll try to explain briefly.  The Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis and became the Indianapolis Colts.  Then the Cleveland Browns moved to Baltimore and became the Ravens.  Then Cleveland got a new team also called the Browns!)
Both teams stumbled through the first half which ended with the Colts up 14-3.  It looked like they would cruise to an easy victory in the second half.  But the Giants had other plans.  They stormed back and took the lead late in the game.  While up by 3 points with two minutes left on the clock, the Giants punted the ball and the Colts took over deep in their own territory.  Unfortunately for the Giants, the ball was now in the hands of the great Johnny Unitas, one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever sling the old pigskin around the gridiron.  The Giants defense, led by famed linebacker Sam Huff, forced a 3rd and 11.  Unitas completed a pass and then followed it up with a few more.  With seconds left on the clock, the Colts kicked a field goal to tie the game and force overtime.
And therein lies the problem!  No NFL playoff game had ever been decided by overtime, much less the championship game!  The captains met at mid-field for the toss, just like they had at the beginning of the game.  The Giants won the toss and received the ball, but could do nothing with it.  They punted and the Colts took over.  Again, Unitas put on a football clinic as he drove 80 yards in 13 plays.  The Colts faced a third down on the Giants one yard line.  They called a simple play, really, the old fullback dive.  Alan Ameche took the ball and plunged across the goal line as camera bulbs flashed.  The image (seen at the top of the post) is one of the most iconic photographs of any NFL game.  Ever.
The NFL had arrived.  The merger of football and television was as significant as the merger between baseball and the radio.  Though it took time, the NFL would take over as America’s dominant sport.  The 1958 NFL Championship Game would go down in history as the “greatest game ever played”.
Though no full game video is out there to watch, you can listen to the complete game here along with seeing some of the game footage matched up with the radio call.

What If You Don’t Know?

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Dear Readers,

I took my first creative writing course as an undergraduate student at Sam Houston State University way back in the spring of 1998. That’s twenty years ago this semester, though I prefer not to dwell on the amount of time that has passed. On the first evening of class, the professor stood in front of us and repeated the words that all aspiring writers have no doubt heard repeatedly. Said he, “Write what you know.” “Cool!”, said I. “I’ll write about what I know.” But how do you write what you know when you don’t know?

The class went downhill from there. Of course, you are going to be more comfortable writing about topics that you have some personal knowledge of, be it fiction or non. I write historical fiction. I have not lived in any time period but my own, at least not that I’m aware of. I’ve never been through a bombing raid. I did not take part in the Civil War. So how well do I truly know these subjects if my knowledge was all derived from books?

I can’t really answer that. It’s true, as my last post indicated, that I spent an immense amount of time researching my most recent novel, but that research isn’t the same as living through it. Still, as I began work on my book on 10 MAR 2017, I found myself drawing from some of my own experiences. As a firefighter, I know what burning buildings look like. I’ve smelled roasted flesh. I’ve heard the screams of injured people. And I guess in my own way, these experiences made their way into my novel and I hope will make it a stronger one.

I would say that you don’t have to have in depth personal knowledge of something in order to write about it so long as you are willing to spend the necessary time to get to know the subject or to get to know people who do have that knowledge. Though I’m loathe to call myself a historian, though technically I am, I have conducted numerous interviews over the years doing that very thing. When approached respectfully and in a non-judgmental manner, people may be more willing to talk than you might think. You don’t have to be a detective yourself to write a mystery novel. You don’t have to be a reincarnated Civil War soldier to write a Civil War novel. Just ask the right questions. Read the right books. And talk to the right people. How do you know which of these are the right ones? Well, you’ll know. Have faith in yourself.

Hutch