Getting Published

Update on the New Job (Plus, “The Shooting”)

Things have a been a little crazy lately.

Now that I’m all in at Tremendum, I’m seeing what it is to fully dedicate myself to those things I enjoy and I’m best at. And I love it.

Last week, we headed down to Hollywood for a small screening of The Gallows and to work on sound design. I was more in tagalong mode as I learn more about the process, but I was able to offer some input here and there. I’ve never been to a test screening and I found the entire process completely fascinating, especially the conversation afterwards with the focus group and the studio heads. There’s far, far more that goes into the creation of every single second of a movie than you could even guess at.

After the test screening. From L-R: 'Gallows' Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

After the test screening. From L-R: ‘Gallows’ Writer-Directors Travis Cluff and Chris Lofing, Sound Designer Brandon Jones, Production Associate Nate Healy, and me.

Most of my work at the moment for Tremendum is in developing and writing a post-Gallows project. More on that when I can share it, but I hit a real milestone this week by finishing a first draft. I didn’t expect to get it done as quickly as I have, but I guess I’ve got the fire in me right now.

In an odd way, moving so completely forward and quickly on a new project has caused me to reflect on old projects, particularly one I put away years ago.

Raised by a Dead Man: A Coming of Age Story Between Two Shootings is the first memoir I wrote and the one that allowed me to form a relationship with my literary agent, Bonnie Solow. For a variety of reasons, few having to do with the quality of the story or even the way I wrote it, it didn’t sell. But it’s still a book and a story I feel passionate about. I’ve already posted the prologue on this site, but, just for kicks, this week I’m going to serialize the first few chapters of RBDM.

I welcome your feedback. If response is good, maybe I’ll post more than a few chapters. In any case, I hope you enjoy it.

Here we go. The following is a true story:

* * *

Chapter One

Shooting

No one makes a living retailing junk food. Not one good enough to support a wife and four sons, anyway. The guns were what fed us. The bullets and the barrels sold right alongside the soda bottles and the Slim Jims put food on the table and gave us a home. Us, and Dad’s employees—both of whom had gone home early that night from the dirty little shop on the outskirts of Fresno. Bill’s Bait and Tackle closed at 5:00pm. Dad was alone for everything that happened afterwards.

A small business owner never clocks out. Not really. Once home, Dad could look forward to adding receipts and counting money long into the night. Might take even longer if his sons bristled once again at helping him or, even better, tempted him into a rubber band war. Closing time wasn’t particularly restful, but it didn’t require him to be a husband or a handy man or a father or a disciplinarian. All he had to do between the flipping of the “CLOSED” sign and the pulling of the car into his driveway—which probably needed to be cleared of bikes and toys—was to perform the routine.

Close out the register. Lock the freezer. Put away the inventory. Shut off the lights and secure the store with deadbolt and lock on the way out.

It took Dad a good fifteen minutes to pack up the dozens guns by himself. They were housed in two display cases doubling as the store’s front counters; Now and Laters and trucker hats making a pit stop on top of the .45’s and Thirty Ought Sixes on their way out the door. Dangling yellow tags attached to the guns on tiny, white strings shouted the sale price from behind the clean, always clear glass.

Dad removed the guns quickly, one by one, and placed them with great care into two long, black, clam shell cases for storage during the night. This was the puzzle to which only he had the picture. Without markers or leftover impressions on the foam pad lining the inside, he still knew the precise placement of each handgun and rifle inside their carriages. Once packed, he would transport the guns into the iron safe in the storage room just behind the freezers.

It was something Dad did night after night with little incident—with the exception of that night. On that night, he never made it to the safe.

Neither did the guns.

The two men kicked in the front door with a shout.

“YOU’RE DEAD, SUCKER!”

Their semi-automatics lit up only fifteen feet away from the fat man behind the counter, ejecting bullet after bullet directly at him. The first bullet rocketed towards Dad’s chest, but missed. The next went straight into his stomach, forcing him to double over from the impact. Not from the pain. That hadn’t registered yet.

Dad made a grab for his own gun stuck between the waistband of his pants and his hip. He got the weapon up and out, but didn’t have enough time to do anything productive with it as more bullets tore with great speed through his muscle and flesh, his body jerking with the impact of each one as it burst into him. His gun fell to the floor as he did, with a thud behind the open, sliding wooden doors of the display cases still filled with all the firearms he hadn’t had a chance to pack up yet.

The glass on the front of the cases exploded into twinkling, falling stars as the two men fired into them. Quickly, one of them collected the store’s most valuable merchandise into a bag while the other shooter fired even more bullets, this time at point-blank range, up and down my father’s body as he lay on the floor. Satisfied the store’s owner could not survive such a barrage, the men worked together to gather up the rest of their spoils as quickly as possible. When they were done, the only thing left on the carpeted shelves lining the now-broken cases was broken glass.

Dad, his pants and shirt already soaked red, had just enough of his wits remaining to grab his gun up off the floor to fight back. On his back and without much mobility, his mind ignored the swell of intense pain in his lower body while his hand searched, doing its best to find his metal piece before the shooters saw what he was doing. Frantic and fading, he grabbed one of the display guns that had fallen out of the cases instead. The yellow tag dangled.

click.

Display guns are never loaded.

The shooters gave Dad’s body one last sweep of bullets. His body jerked up and down on the hard, uncaring floor of the store. More blood exited from fresh wounds to make room for their hot new guests. Some bullets exited just as quickly as they entered. Others dug into Dad’s flesh and took residence.

Finally, the shooting stopped. Dad went still.

The two men, with bags full of black treasures, turned around and left in a hurry, slamming the door behind them.

* * *

Next: “The Call”

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Days 64 – 139: Here’s Everything That Happened While I Was Out

I have no idea why we're making these faces, but this is me and Erin.

I have no idea why we’re making these faces, but this is me and Erin.

I think it’s time to come back.

How much does an unfinished story suck? I know I hate it. I didn’t intend to leave everyone hanging for so long, but as the responsibilities started piling up–most especially as I finished Worlds Apart in an effort to get it off to my agent–it got easier and easier to not blog. Sure, I jotted down blog notes every couple days and saved them as drafts, but you don’t want to read notes. Notes are boring. Notes are incomplete. Notes lack flavor. Pizazz.

Those notes were supposed to be used to resume the story of our double unemployment from where I left off, and then I was just going to continue it forward with blog after blog after blog.

I’m not going to do that.

What I am going to do instead is fill you in on everything that’s happened since I stopped updating in one go, right here. But first, let’s talk about why I stopped updating in the first place.

The truth is, the constant pressure of chronicling our double unemployment journey every day was not an issue in the beginning when everything was new and different, but as time wore on it all got to be repetitive and I had to drag the blogs out of me kicking and screaming. And biting. Some blogs bit hard because they were wild and not house trained and peed on me.

The point is, unemployment is not exciting. (Who knew?) It’s deadly boring and sad. It’s just sad. I can’t even make a joke about it without making people feel uncomfortable and sorry for us. And if I can’t joke, am I really even alive? Do I even feel? Do I breathe? Do I exist?

Well, let me tell you, according the employers of the world, no, I do not exist.

ba-dum bum.

See? Not funny.

Let’s do this. Let’s break out the bullet points (because everyone loves bullet points, right?) and run down everything that’s happened since October 31st, 2014 (holy crud) in one go. Ready? Read:

• I went on two different dates with two different women in one day. In the afternon, I ate seafood with my daughter Cami, and in the evening I went to dinner and a movie (St. Vincent with Bill Murray–great movie!) with Erin.

I admit it, I'll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.

I admit it, I’ll watch Bill Murray in just about anything. But this was really good.

• Erin got bold and contacted an acquaintance who is also a Pharmaceutical Rep about how to break into his industry. He is now mentoring her because the blessings are kind of nonstop like that.

• While watching the Marvel 75th Anniversary television special on ABC, I noticed a piece of art created by my SuperFogeys cohort Marc Lapierre was featured prominently and by mistake. I contacted the comics media and the story soon went viral, resulting in Marc actually getting compensated for his work! It was awesome. You can read the whole story here.

• Cami started SCREECHING whenever she feels joy. The screeching makes me feel anger, so, one day, I yelled at her. I am a horrible person.

• I FINALLY heard back about the job in San Francisco. They decided to halt the hiring process. That was a tough day.

• Erin explored selling life insurance. Decided definitively that it was not for her because you actually have to pay money to start. There’s some legal rigamarole that explains why that is, but I’ll skip to the conclusion: it’s stupid.

• Saw Big Hero 6 with the family. Cami made it through 60 seconds before melting down. She and I spent the rest of the movie in the lobby. Movie theaters used to be one of her favorite places so this was tragic on a level I can’t even explain.

I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn't guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.

I enjoyed this movie, but it fell a bit flat in the end. All the characters seemed very undercooked and the world underpopulated. And who didn’t guess the identity of the villain? He was the only character left after you took away the obvious suspect.

• I got a real solid lead on a job with a local school district. I applied, they decided a month later that I, as someone who does not have classroom experience, am not qualified for a job that does not require me to teach in a classroom. (Can you hear the heavy sigh?)

• Cami got whooping cough despite having been vaccinated against it. Then she got pneumonia. Her body is getting weaker and her doctor advised us to keep her away from kids who have not been vaccinated whenever possible. This is almost entirely impossible. I’m so glad people love polio so much.

• After reaching a peak place where the stress of unemployment was wearing on us to the point that Erin and I were arguing and angry at each other every day, we fell off that cliff and arrived a sort of serene, peaceful place together. Stress gets to us like it does everyone else, but if I could identify one of the true strengths of our marriage it’s that we always, always, always pull together when it counts. Also, it helps when I finally clean the fan blades and bring her flowers.

• Wrote a blog entitled “Perfect Attendance Awards are an Abomination” and never published it.

• Suffered from insomnia. A lot.

• Finished Worlds Apart and gave it to Erin to read. She had many notes, which is fair since she’s a main character. Made many revisions.

• Batman, one of our two dogs, snuck into Cami’s room during her whooping cough fits and insisted on sleeping next to her for several nights until she was through the worst of it.

Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.

Batman, standing vigil over a very sick Cami.

• Erin got a call to come interview with another local company and it went EXTREMELY well. Almost two months later and they still haven’t hired for the position, but we still hold out hope.

• I spent Thanksgiving sick out of my mind, away from family, and watching special features on a Hobbit Blu-ray all day long. (I’m entering the preceding sentence in a “Saddest Story Ever” contest.)

Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.

Thank you for being my friend, Hobbit.

• (No, I’m not.)

• The group I’m in charge of at church put on a very successful Turkey Bowl activity at which I played football for the first time in 15 years. I was… not very good.

• Erin and I attended a combo Hmong/Protestant wedding. Besides how lovely the couple and the ceremony were, the MC, who also acted as translator for the evening, was the best. Actual quote: “Now we will have the speech from the Best Man. It is called the Best Man Speech.”

• Erin got sick. A lot.

• Broke a handle on my car.

• Left the garage door open one night by accident. Thieves stole our GPS, a scooter, and all of the personal items I packed up on my last day at the job (including hundreds of dollars worth of comics).

• Wrote a blog entitled “Dear Future Employer” to address the people who say this blog is a bad idea. Posted it for 60 seconds before getting a sick feeling in my stomach and pulling it down. Not sure why. The one person who managed to read it was very complimentary.

• I was drafted to create a slideshow video of photos and home movies from families at church for the Ward Christmas Party. I did, I think, a pretty decent job on it.

• The additional time spent at home means I have grown immeasurably closer to our youngest, Violet. That may be worth all the unemployment trouble by itself. For example, one morning we just took her to the zoo. Because we could.

Erin and Violet at the zoo.

Erin and Violet at the zoo.

• Erin and Elora presented together at EPU, a local group that helps families with young children with special needs. Elora, 12, who talked about her experiences as Cami’s sister, is the youngest person to ever present for EPU (she presented when she was 10).

• Erin and I both had occasional, what-the-crud-has-happened-to-our-lives freakouts.

Tremendum Pictures, a locally based film and video production company with a movie, The Gallows, coming out this summer from New Line Cinema, asked to meet with me. They are looking to grow and want me to come on board.  They’re small right now, but… yes, please. Not a job, per se, but lots of potential. Going full steam ahead with them for as long as I can. Doesn’t solve all our problems, but it’s promising.

Screen Shot 2015-01-17 at 3.23.10 PM

• Erin and I went up to the Portland/Vancouver area to visit my brothers, McKay and Tyler, and their wives, McKenna and Karen. It was wonderful to get away from the stress and worry and complication of our normal lives for a little while.

• McKay and McKenna asked me to read them chapters of Worlds Apart out loud. I happily obliged. The instant gratification of their laughter and guffaws was exhilarating. I get why stage actors do it.

• I spent an afternoon at Powell’s Books in Portland just writing on my laptop. I now have my very own Hipster badge.

• While were were in Vancouver/Portland, every single one of our leads for paying jobs dried up. Four months in, we went back to square one.

• Our oldest, Elora, got her braces off. Suddenly, she’s ten years older.

Freaky, normal teeth.

Freaky, normal teeth.

• Just before Christmas, we were blessed by kind people and their giving hearts.

• Missed the Family Christmas Eve Party because some of the kids attending were not vaccinated. I was bummed, but having Cami has always required sacrifices. We make them gladly.

• Found out a close friend also lost his job. Great, now we’re contagious.

• Erin’s parents took us all to Disneyland, an annual tradition ever since a trip we took years ago during which Cami came alive in a whole new way. The past couple of years have been rough for Cami as she’s developed an aversion to large crowds and dark places, but we stumbled on a solution when we gave her a toy to fidget with and she found her happy place. I had a much more difficult time enjoying myself. Couldn’t help walking around the park and feeling like an outsider as I considered the employed state of everyone around me.

• Post Christmas, peace reigned. A disturbing amount of peace. Peace, despite still-present moments of freaking out, became our overriding state of being.

• Sent Worlds Apart out to beta readers, along with a link to an online survey to facilitate their feedback. This was the right move. Most of the 10 readers read it within 24 hours of starting it. It’s a heartwarming, romantic comedy page-turner with lots of tension and suspense, which is awesome.

• Took Cami to see Annie in the movie theater, risking another meltdown. This time, I took the fidget toy we bought in Disneyland and that did the trick. Cami friggin’ loved the music.

This is such a strange movie. I don't know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.

This is such a strange movie. I don’t know if I would call it good, but the remakes of the songs are fantastic.

• Rang in the New Year up in Bass Lake with friends and board games, just like last year. We would happily continue this tradition for years to come. This year has to be better than last, right?

Erin with her go-to New Year's drink--Martinelli's apple cider. Accept no substitutes.

Erin with her go-to New Year’s drink–Martinelli’s apple cider. Accept no substitutes.

• Met with a client with Tremendum for the first time to formulate ideas for a marketing video. I’m going to have a blast with these guys. If I can turn this into my job then everything that’s happened will suddenly make a whole lot of sense to me.

• Cami’s body might be betraying her. A bone density scan shows that her bones are soft and, fearing that her body’s small size might mean bad things internally, we went up to San Francisco to meet with her neurologist. She allayed our fears for the most part (the size of her organs compared to her frame–the biggest potential problem–is really only an issue if she isn’t mobile), but we still need to meet with endocrinologists to determine what’s really going on. This is our constant roller coaster with Cami. There’s no real diagnosis for her issues and we have no real idea of how long we can expect her to be with us. So we enjoy what we can, which this time included walking through Fisherman’s Wharf and Pier 39 with her and watching the sea lions.

Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.

Erin and Cami at the top of the two-story carousel. Not that you can tell.

• Sent Worlds Apart to my agent. She burned through it quickly, just like the beta readers, and loved it. Now we’ve gotta find the right publisher. It’s an unusual book that doesn’t end in the way I think most readers will expect. Is that a good thing? Bad thing? We’ll see.

• Erin figured out that, above all, this is a trial of patience. I can’t disagree with that.

Annnnnnd you’re all caught up. This info dump brought to you by: my guilt. Now that I’ve done away with all those blogs I didn’t write, I’m free to do things a bit differently.

No more “Day This” and “Day That.” That’s done. The unemployment continues, but I think from this point forward I’ll be a much better blogger if I just write about what’s happening, not when it’s happening. Topics and events, not days. It will free me up quite a bit and hopefully prove more interesting for all of you. How does that sound?

Thanks for sticking with me this long. Always nice to know people are out there who care. Let’s see how this all ends together.

Day 56 – What It Takes to Write a Book (or The Benefit of Failure)

On August 28th, my wife lost her job. 24 hours later, I lost mine. This blog is a continuation of the day-by-day chronicling of our emotional journey back to employment. This is bound to be upsetting, hilarious and hopeful.

Friday – October 24, 2014

What is kid smiling about?

What is kid smiling about?

I’m kind of over the moon excited that I finished the penultimate chapter in my memoir, Worlds Aparttoday. The chapter, currently titled Family Junk*, deals with the limbo/hell that is engagement, and focuses particularly on all the religious and cultural strife we managed to layer on top of an already tense situation. I’ve posted a short excerpt from this chapter before. Anyone who’s been through an engagement can, I’m sure, relate.

*I hate chapters that are numbered. They tell you nothing and make it much more difficult to go back into the book and find particular passages. That said, especially during the first draft, chapter titles are always an in flux thing.

The chapter ends with the line “Somehow, this was all ending with a wedding.” Which is apt. The first half of the book makes that a more than improbable proposition.

The next–and last–chapter is entitled, naturally, The Wedding. Once it and a short epilogue are done, I will actually have a completed first draft. It’s taken three long years to get here but the point is it’s done. Er, almost done.

I’m close, is my point.

My literary agent has been incredibly patient with me through all of this. For me, there’s no shortcutting the process. Some can burn through a first draft no problem and that’s their favorite part, but the first draft is just pure torture for me. I edit as I go–a cardinal sin of writing–but I can’t generate ideas unless I’m feeling the language. And I can’t feel the language unless I make it “sound” at least somewhat decent. The upshot is this makes for quick subsequent drafts as the individual pieces of writing are more or less in good shape. It’s a very different kind of writing than the quick jots I do here in this blog.

Writing a book takes a scary amount of discipline, but thankfully there are some big deal things I’ve done in my life that required quite a bit of discipline. I spent a good chunk of my childhood and teen years teaching myself how to draw. Hours and hours over years and years of tracing and copying led to creations of my own and experimentations with different styles and mediums until, finally, I was able to make a living doing illustration and design. The hard work paid off.

At 19-years-old I volunteered to serve a two-year mission for my Church. I was assigned to teach the Hispanic peoples of Arizona, in their native language. I averaged a C- minus in Spanish in high school. I hated Spanish. I didn’t want to learn another language, but I did it anyway and it was the hardest thing I’d ever done in my life–harder, for me at that late age, than learning to draw. The fluency I achieved during my time in Arizona is one of the great (admittedly God-assisted) accomplishments of my life.

At 28-years-old, I decided to be a writer. Have you ever just thought you could do something–I mean really do it, successfully–without any real evidence to support your self-belief? It’s a feeling that comes out of nowhere and I didn’t feel terribly responsible for it. Writing is more like something that happened to me and not something I necessarily chose.

After writing blogs and short stories for a while, I figured, in all my hubris, that I’d try my hand at writing a book. Worse, a non-celebrity memoir (which may be the most ill-advised kind of memoir because: who cares?).

Again I had to call upon a kind of discipline I didn’t even know I had. Books don’t get written only when you feel like writing. They get written every day, little-by-little, until they’re done. If you’re like me and you’ve got family and work and church commitments, you write it really-little-by-really-little. My first book took me about two years. It was a strong enough piece of writing that it got me a literary agent and got read by some fairly important people. But it didn’t sell.

If my first book required discipline, approaching the second one after the failure of the first required ten times more and about a month of crying in my proverbial beer. However–and I’ve only recently become grateful for this–my life is riddled with failures that came only after getting as close to success as a person possibly can without actually achieving it. My failures are bitter affairs, the perpetual football taken away at the last second.

Not that I wouldn’t choose to reverse a failure or two if I could (selling an idea to DC Comics, signing a contract to produce the comic for a year, and then having the entire line cancelled before my team could even get started on our entry ranks up there), but holy crud has all this failure honed my discipline and made me more grateful for good fortune and blessings than I ever thought possible. I take nothing for granted. Not one thing.

I’ve gone far off point here, if I ever had one. What I’m trying to say is, if there’s two things I’ve learned in my life–and this is certainly true of my current unemployment situation as well–it’s that 1) nothing is achieved without hard work, and 2) sometimes you don’t get it even with hard work, and that doesn’t, in the grand scheme of things, matter.

I’m a better person because of my disappointments. I know 100% I’m a better, more empathetic person for going through this unemployment mess. In the end, the lessons or self-improvement or self-understanding or whatever you want to call it, are the only thing of real value in this world, period. Those are the things we take with us into the next. When I’m clear and thinking and seeing things as they really are, I understand all this perfectly.

Today, I understand perfectly. I am saddled with difficulty and burdened by bills I don’t know how I’ll soon pay, but I can see it all as part of the larger tapestry that is a life I don’t think I’ve been completely unsuccessful at and hope to live out well.

For now, soon I queue up another football. We’ll see if I kick it this time.

* * *

As for the actual day today…

We came back reluctantly–and too early in the morning–from Uncle John’s Cabin in Bass Lake. I guess it was good to see the kids again. I mean, I guess they’re pretty cool and they put smiles on our faces and their hugs are kinda great. But they do ask for food. Constantly. No one needs as many snacks as they ask for.

They stayed the night at their grandparents’ house and my mom dropped them off at school, so I didn’t see Cami until I picked her up later in the afternoon. She spotted me from far away, but her teacher didn’t. Cami pulled and pulled on her, but her teacher wouldn’t let her go because she was busy with her conversation. Cami started shrieking and did everything she could to get away as I came closer, but still her teacher wouldn’t turn around to see what Cami was reaching for.

Finally, Cami broke free and covered the now short distance between us to fall into my arms and bury her face in my shoulder with even more shrieks of joy. We’d only been apart for a day or so, but you’d have thought it was a month.

How My Writing Reached the Top of a New York Skyscraper and Then Fell Back Down Again

…or What the Heck Happened with That Book I Wrote

BrocksWritingSpace

My writing space: Dining Room Table. Tunes. Notebook. Laptop. Flowers.

I’ve been avoiding writing this post for a long time. When I started writing my book, Raised By a Dead Man (which everyone seems to agree is a terrible title and yet no one has ever come up with anything better), my plan was to a) become a writer and b) start big. Just to be clear: starting big is writing a 95,000 word book when the longest thing you’ve written previously was a 2,000 word report on North Dakota. In the sixth grade.

I’m be facetious. I had also done some blogging. (Okay, now I’m really being facetious.)

You ever feel like you can do something–I mean really, actually do it–even though you’ve never even attempted it before? Me neither, except for this one time when I spent every night after 10pm for two years writing this book. I knew I was a writer. I just knew it.

And I knew I had a great story to tell. A boy’s coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of his father getting gunned down in not one, but two armed robberies. The second time, the father dies and the boy–now serving as a missionary–has to come to grips with not only himself but the legacy his father has left behind. Somehow, this all ends on a happy, positive not. It’s a feel-good tragedy. Y’know, like those sorts of things always are.

The best part was that it was all true. It was my story. A memoir.

I sent the book out to friends and family and people I didn’t know so well for their feedback. This was valuable because the book wasn’t quite ready yet. Thankfully, I have good people I can lean on who are both enthusiastic and honest.  The book got better and finally, in April 2011, I started submitting it to literary agents.

(I had some initial ideas about self-publishing but after doing my research I quickly determined that was not for me. My reasons are a whole ‘nother blog post, but even my subsequent failure hasn’t turned that into a viable option.)

My thought was, why not shoot for the stars? You never know, right? And if all I hit is the moon, that’s okay, too, because there’s no points for not trying. “Whatever happens, happens,” I said.

Here’s what’s wrong with this: nobody likes putting everything on the line and then admitting defeat, especially when they’ve been foolish enough to say, “Eh, whatever happens, happens.” Human beings invented the word “whatever” against the advice of God when we really, really felt like we needed one word to cover up all the feelings we insist aren’t there.

God said, “Look, I invented language and I didn’t include ‘whatever’ for a reason. It’s a transparent, nothing of a word. People are gonna see right through it to your real intentions.”

“But maybe not!” we said. “Maybe it will be the one word that allows us to barrel through difficult things in all confidence that we’re fooling everybody!”

God said, “Sometimes I wonder why I bother.” Then, He invented the Ten Commandments because anything more nuanced would have gone right over our heads.

I knew–I knew before I even started writing–that I’d be devastated if the book didn’t reach the top of the bestseller lists. I also knew expecting a book from a first-time author with little writing experience to reach that highest of heights was unreasonable. But I didn’t care. In fact, I still kind of don’t think that was the wrong attitude to have. You can’t maintain a passion for something over the course of several years without absolute belief in its viability.

So, my book went out to agents. This is a punishing process. It requires submitting a one page letter of both introduction and summation and a small sample from the book. Then, you wait to hear back. Could take two minutes or several months. If the agent likes what they see, they ask for more, sometimes (if you’re lucky) the whole book. A few agents did ask for more. A lot more just rejected the book outright. Then, in August 2011 one agent liked it so much she read it all in a week.

That agent, Bonnie Solow, is my now my literary agent. She thought the book should be seen by the top editors in New York–people who had worked on bestselling and Pulitzer Prize winning memoirs–and she had the connections to get it there.

Now, in case it’s not clear, this–that I got that far–is a BIG FREAKIN’ DEAL. I fully appreciate that many authors will try to get an agent for years without success. And getting an agent is really the only way to get your writing in front of the right eyes. That’s what a good agent does. That’s what Bonnie did for me.

I’ll spare you the details of the months of additional drafts and and the development of the 30-page proposal designed to convince the editors and publishing houses to buy the book, and skip right to the end: despite a lot of enthusiasm (and, sure, some real lack of enthusiasm), Raised By a Dead Man failed to find a home. It will not be coming to a bookstore or online retailer near you.

It’s been a full year now since we stopped shopping the book. I’ve talked in person about its failure freely with whoever asks, but I’ve never really written anything down. The written word is where I can be the most honest and sometimes you just want to lie to yourself a little longer.

Yeah, I was devastated. In a most spectacular, soul-crushing way. I poured everything I had into that book. It reached the top of the New York skyscrapers (I actually have no idea where the New York publishing offices are located, but “high up” seems like a safe bet) and was put on display in the right offices. Then it got ejected.

Rejected. Out the window. Ground floor, coming up fast.

Let me tell you, there’s no arrogance like the confidence of the undiscovered and nothing so bitter as the defeat of the uncovered found wanting. Creativity turned into a chore. Music stopped sounding good. I thought about writing about vampires in love on a boat. “Vampire Love Boat.” Tell me that’s not a bestseller.

All of this was temporary. See, in case you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m an idiot. Instead of playing video games every night and just being happy with my amazing wife and our girls and a job that puts a roof over our heads and friends that are super cool and you wish you had, I kept writing. I didn’t even take a break, really. I wrote on the good days and I wrote on the bad days. I just wrote. Because, by now, I know that’s what I love to do.

Like I said, idiot.

My new project was (and still is) a second memoir (idiot!). It’s a not-a-sequel that starts about a year and a half after the first one and relates the Mormon Romeo/Protestant Juliet journey my wife and I and our future in-laws took to the altar. Bad dates, secret romance, religious conflict and abysmal attempts at flirting abound.

My agent is actually pretty excited about it. Whatever happens (there’s that word again), I know that the 52,000 words I’ve written so far is the best stuff I’ve ever done.

With any luck, the second time’s the charm. If not, I have no doubt I’ll go for the hat trick of failure and write something else. And then something else. And then something elser. If I’ve learned anything over the past year, it’s that I suck at failure.

Post Script:

So, what of Raised By a Dead Man? After all, it’s still listed in my bio. I still hope it will see the light. An author can create demand for his work by simply becoming an in demand author. I’ll no doubt do some more drafts one day and, who knows, that might just be what the book needs.

But, y’know, it still kind of bums me out that no one outside of a very small circle has ever read it. Here, then, is the first few pages of Raised By a Dead Man just because. I hope you enjoy it at least a little more than New York did.

RAISED BY A DEAD MAN

by Brock Heasley

Ready

After the funeral, my family and I were ushered down the long, silent hallway and out through the back of the church to avoid the news cameras out front. For a while we stood silently at the edge of the parking lot, huddled close together. Looking down. Mom, in her black skirt and bright red top, dried her tears and smiled faintly. She looked almost relieved. This day had been coming for a long time.

I wrapped one arm tightly around her and the other around my two youngest brothers, who stuck close to me. My other younger brother, Logan, stood as an island unto himself, shivering slightly with arms draped in as much stillness at his sides as he could manage. It was one of those oddly cold, bright days where if you weren’t standing directly in the path of the white and warming sun, you’d freeze. A few cousins, Mom’s parents, Dad’s brother Jim, and Dad’s parents soon joined us. We talked about how nice the service was and not much else.

Grandma, a longtime smoker, could barely breathe and leaned on Grandpa for support. There was a bitterness to her mourning that choked out sentiment, leaving nothing but the sharp anger she displayed all over her face. She muttered the same refrain she’d been repeating over and over again since Saturday night: “Parents shouldn’t have to bury their children.” No one disagreed with her.

The hearse pulled up and we moved to the nearby trees along the sidewalk surrounding the church to allow room for the casket to be rolled out. We watched as the box and the body were loaded in carefully by the hired hands from the funeral home. They were so solemn and so precise in the way they went about it. They didn’t know Dad; for them, it was a performance—routine and impersonal. Were they thinking about the game later that night? Hatching dinner plans? Digesting breakfast? I hadn’t been able to eat that morning. I was too nervous about my speaking assignment.

The door to the hearse clicked as it locked. The signal given, we all piled into cars to start the long journey out to the cemetery way beyond the edge of town. The cameras followed us, but only until we were out of sight. Mom, in the front seat, wiped her tears. She turned around to tell me how much the talk I gave during the funeral meant to her and how impressed she and everyone else was with it. Embarrassed and flattered, I thanked my dedicated, proud and delusional mother. (Though the many compliments I received proved her to not be entirely alone in her insanity.) She dismissed my modesty as false and said the talk reminded her of a moment she’d had with Dad just a week earlier.

They were sitting on the couch in the living room, talking. It was one of those conversations that meandered from the inane to the consequential, a web of familiar concerns particular to all longstanding couples. Dad, who was not sick, spoke, as he often did, of his impending death and how much he looked forward to the afterlife. It would be wonderful. Glorious. So much to learn and to see.

Mom hit her limit. After years of Dad’s supposedly fatal fatalism, she’d had enough and finally asked him the one question she had wanted to ask for years, but had never before dared:

“Bill, do you want to die?”

Dad fell silent. He took a moment to consider his words carefully. Mom could see by the look on his face that he was desperately trying to craft the correct answer to her very direct question. He didn’t want to hurt her. Finally, he gave his measured response.

“If it weren’t for you… and the boys… yes, I’m ready to go now.”

Thanks for reading. Seriously, thanks. That’s all anybody who writes wants anyway.

The AIMS Demo Reel

I know I’ve been mostly absent from this blog for the past little while. This has been a pretty up-and-down year. I was promoted to Art Director at my 9-to-5 earlier, but I’ve also seen my memoir, RAISED BY A DEAD MAN, struggle to find a publisher. I’ll probably write about that frustrating journey at some point, but not quite yet. Suffice it to say, hope is not completely lost, but it’s been rough. More later.

Meanwhile, I thought it might be fun to show off a little of what we’ve been up to at my place of work–the non-profit AIMS Education Foundation. One of my mandates this year was to increase our video production values. This little demo reel shows off both behind-the-scenes clips and some finished shots, along with some of construction we’ve done on the (still not quite yet finished) sets. This is 6 months worth of work in under 5 minutes. We’ve come a long way from not quite knowing which way to point the camera.

How to Make Things Valuable

A writerly pose. Notice the all-black attire, the awkward framing, the fingers brought to the temple, and the archaic writing tool. Yes, this man has deep, deep thoughts.

When I was younger I had this dream about accomplishing something amazing at a young age. Get hired by Marvel or DC Comics. Write a book. Serve in City Council. Invent a new Oreo. Whatever. I thought that doing something great at a young age would make me and that thing more extraordinary.

Didn’t happen. The things I did as a young adult were pretty typical. I graduated college. Married. Had kids. Got a job and a house. All good things and great accomplishments for me personally, but nothing the world was gonna stand up and take notice of.

Fast forward to now and, on the eve of my 35th birthday (still a week away), I actually have done something pretty great. I’ve written a book that could find a wide audience and change my life and the life of my family forever. That’s terribly exciting, but it’s nothing people younger than me haven’t already done hundreds of times over. Granted, my story is my own and unique and amazing, but I’ve read and heard about kids and young adults still in college getting these amazing book deals. Real prodigies. People who have accomplished so much and are so talented  and so young. That was supposed to me.

I’m so, so glad it wasn’t.

There is value in the wait. With hard, laborious, extended periods of work and pounds of sweat comes a feeling of satisfaction and accomplishment. I can appreciate what I have now because of where I’ve been and what it took to get here. My book has been through the wringer–multiple readers and people giving their opinion on what I’ve done and what does and does work for them. The “does not” is the hard part. Pouring your heart and talents into something for years and then being told it’s not quite right is tough and it shapes you. Thank goodness.

Now, I have a literary agent. I’ve written a book. Do you know how exciting that is? I do, now. If this had happened to younger me (and no friggin’ way he had the talent or the skills), he wouldn’t have appreciated it. There would have a been a sense of inevitability about it. A sense of entitlement that would have made the accomplishment less thrilling and less deserved. I’m glad that punk didn’t get this then. What I have now is more valuable because that guy was disappointed and had to wait and reconfigure who he thought he was and work harder than he ever thought he could.

I realize I haven’t really “done it” yet. In fact, I’m at the biggest crossroads of this whole process right now. The book is about to go out to publishers and then we’ll really see what the future holds. But everything that’s happened so far? Pretty big deal. More than most ever get.

I’m so glad I can see that fully.