Traveling During a Pandemic

Hey everybody, how are you all holding up? It’s been a little while since I’ve checked in, and the funk I was in when I posted last time is stubbornly hanging on. I’ve done painfully little writing, I can’t do much in the way of photography (although people more determined and creative than myself have found ways to keep creating within the confines of their home, conducting photo shoots with action figures or whatever else they can find), so I’ve gone back to a hobby that I suppose never really went away: playing the guitar. I’ve been slowly shaking the rust off my old fingers, learning some popular songs and practicing scales and whatnot, and I must admit I’m getting bitten by the bug again. It feels good, and if I had the time and we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic, I’d love to think about forming or joining a band again. Someday, I suppose…

Speaking of pandemics, that’s the point of this post. After all, it’s in the title :). I’ve been working and commuting as usual since we went on lockdown, but my wife has been working from home for around two months now. And since I’m already out and about (and because she has asthma and is immunocompromised), I do pretty much all the shopping and running of errands. Still, even getting to leave the house like I do, it’s frustrating not being able to do anything, you know? The last few weekends has found us taking drives to get away from the house, the city, and people, naturally. We’ve gone to a couple small lakes around my neck of the woods, and out into the country a time or two, but it seemed like we needed more. We needed to get farther away. So, over the course of a day or two, we decided to get a couple of days off work and take a long weekend trip to Denver! How was it? I guess you could say we got some lemons but made some pretty damn good lemonade.

I know, I know…where are the mountains?

Clearly, the virus is still of paramount importance and we took (and are taking) it seriously. Colorado got hammered in the early days of Covid-19, and the city of Denver was NOT messing around. Although many businesses had been allowed to reopen, masks were mandatory for anyone out in public, and most businesses were also cleaning and sanitizing nonstop. Truth be told, we felt safer there than we do here in Wichita. Despite the toll the virus took on the city early on, it was actually a bit of a relief to see people taking it seriously, even if some of them were only doing it because they were being forced to.

The plan as we crossed into The Centennial State was simple: find wide open spaces, preferably high in the mountains, breathe some fresh air, and let the toddler run around somewhere other than the backyard or the local park (which are both fine, but we felt he needed more stimulation). Our first stop was Red Rocks Park and Amphitheater. Now, obviously we knew there were no concerts going on, but the park is spacious and it seemed like a good place to get off the beaten path, right? Yeah, no. Nope. Nuh-uh. Bad idea for two reasons:

  1. Everyone and their mother decided to go to Red Rocks
  2. The road leading into the park was closed

People were parking at the barricades where access to higher elevation was blocked and hiking around and goofing off everywhere. Social distancing? May as well be speaking German. And since Red Rocks isn’t actually in Denver but in the town of Morrison, the mandatory mask rule was not in effect. We never even stopped the car, but simply drove back out and changed plans, to go somewhere further away where hopefully there would be a) less people, and b) access to the area for which we were headed. What we got instead? Enough rain to make me consider changing my name to Noah.

The skies opened up as we were about halfway to where we wanted to go, when we decided to go ahead and head back to Denver. We figured that even if we got to where we were going, it was raining too hard to even get out of the car. We made the right decision, as the rain did not let up for several hours. Instead, we got some really good Italian food and local beer to take back to our hotel, and we commenced with Operation: Unwind. We let the boy bounce off the walls of the room (ever so slight exaggeration), and sat and talked until late, then slept until we could sleep no more. We got up the next morning and had a light breakfast and a metric ton of caffeine, and headed back for Echo Lake Park, where we had been headed the day before.

Unfortunately, we encountered the same road block we’d hit at Red Rocks, literally. The road was closed beyond a certain elevation, so we had to turn around yet again. This time, however, we stumbled across something extra special and super neato: The coolest freakin’ cemetery we’d ever seen.

Nestled into the side of a mountain, Idaho Springs Cemetery is breathtakingly beautiful, and maybe a little creepy at the same time. Once you enter the cemetery, narrow winding roads lead you further and further up the mountain. It became so narrow, in fact, that we didn’t feel entirely comfortable proceeding in our mid-size SUV. We stayed on the lower levels, marveling over the age of some of the tombstones and wondering how awesome it must look on a foggy morning. If you are a morbid weirdo like us and ever find yourself about 45 minutes west of Denver, be sure to check it out.

Headed back toward Denver, I suggested something I had seen online that I knew was open, to a point, anyway: the Rocky Mountain Arsenal National Wildlife Refuge, located in Commerce City, just east of Denver. While the visitor center was closed, the drive thru (maybe not the best term?) was open, allowing us to take a scenic drive through preserved land rich with various species of animals.

The wildlife drive is off to a promising start!

With a parks employee at the gate to keep track of how many cars were coming and going, we crept along, laughing at the plethora of prairie dogs who seemed as interested in us as we were in them. Eventually we made it to the bison area, though being there during the mid-afternoon meant not a lot of activity from said bison. When/if we get the chance to go back, we’ll make sure to go closer to sunset, when they are more active. Still, it was a very scenic drive, and was actually quite refreshing.

Naturally the best photo I got of a bison was of its backside

Due to a last minute change in our trip, the final night in town was spent in Aurora. No mask ordinance there, and a completely different feeling through the city. I became a little paranoid there, since almost no one was covering their face or practicing any kind of social distancing. It wasn’t too hard for us to keep away from people, but it was off-putting nonetheless.

Oh! One last story. When we left to get dinner, we saw a fire truck and an ambulance pulling into our hotel. Uh-oh, someone is having a bad night. But when we came back? Two ambulances, Two fire trucks, and four cop cars clogged the parking lot. What the hey? As we walked toward the hotel we could see someone already loaded up in one of the ambulances, and we could see police in what we assume was that person’s room, looking around (investigating?). Some pretty dark thoughts went through my head about what might have been going on, but the desk clerk said we were fine to go up to our room, which is what we did. We checked the local news on social media and never saw any mention of all the hubbub. Who knows?

So all in all, the trip was a wee bit disappointing but we made the best of it. We didn’t get to any mountains, and the rain largely ruined any chance for the boy to run amok like we wanted him to, but we saw the awesome graveyard, drove through the wildlife refuge, and more importantly, got away for a change of scenery and a recharge of the old batteries, which was really the whole point for us adults. And as for the toddler, he had a magnificent time and was incredibly well behaved in the car for the almost eight hour drive each way. And when you get looks like this, you know you’ve got to be doing something right.

I know this whole situation still sucks, but keep taking it seriously. Take care of yourselves, take care of each other, check in on people you haven’t heard from in a while. If you miss someone that you haven’t gotten to hang out with, let them know. Hell, talk on the phone if that’s your preferred method of communication. Above all, just be kind to each other.

Is Anyone Else Having a Hard Time Focusing?

I’m in a weird situation. A conundrum, you could say. Due to the nature of my work (911 dispatcher), I will have no reduction in hours. I may even start picking up overtime as things progress. And while I’m thankful to continue receiving a paycheck in these uncertain times, I see people talk about all the free time they have now that they’re not working and hunkered down at home, and…I feel a little pang of jealousy.

But here’s the thing: even if I wasn’t working, and had all sorts of free time, I’m not sure I’d really get any writing done. Every time I try to write, I find I just can’t concentrate. It’s too much to think about with the virus and the quarantine and the people I know who could be affected by it. 2020 started off great with my productivity—I’m about 18k words into a new novel, and when that stalled just a touch I started a *bonkers* short story that I was really liking. Then about two weeks ago, the news got overwhelming. And I haven’t written a word since.

I really don’t have a point here, I’m just wondering if anyone else is having the same problem. I’m hoping here soon it will get easier to compartmentalize what’s going on. I get overcome with guilt when I have WIP’s I could be working on but don’t take advantage of the time I have, so I’ve been beating myself up a little these past couple weeks. I know I’ll get back on that horse, I just wish it were a little easier. But, as my dad was fond of saying, “If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

I’m still doing my best to stay positive. Make no mistake, I’m not in panic mode, but I do worry. I have a child under two and a spouse with asthma and a compromised immune system at home, so I worry. But we still laugh and enjoy each other’s company, so it could definitely be worse. I just need to get busy writing! Take necessary precautions everyone, this is no joke. Wash those hands.

Quarantine Pop Culture Recommendations

So, things are bad. Like, real bad. Bleak, dystopian-novel-bad. I live in Kansas, where some people are so hard-headed that they are ignoring the CDC and spouting “it’s just the flu” and mad that their gym is closed. I won’t get into a rant, but my point is that most of you are probably going to be spending an awful lot of time at home, and it’s going to get boring if you’re not careful. As an only child and an introvert, I’ve always been good at keeping myself occupied, so I guess you could say this is my field of expertise. I’ll have a few non-pop culture options for you at the end, but first, let’s talk about binging—movies, TV shows, books, music—this is your chance to catch up on things you’ve missed!


Breaking Bad/Better Call Saul [Netflix/AMC]

I have always maintained that my favorite TV show of all time is The Sopranos, but if any show can challenge Tony’s squad, it’s Vince Gilligan’s outstanding meth-making drama. I didn’t start watching Breaking Bad until it was already on Netflix, and I had heard of it but didn’t know a whole lot about it. I consider this show to be almost perfect—from the writing to the acting, down to the cinematography—it’s the only show I can think of that kept getting better with every season.

When it was announced that there would be a BB spinoff, I was as skeptical as could be. What were they thinking? How foolish. Bob Odenkirk’s Saul Goodman was an interesting character in Breaking Bad, but the way they took his story and explored it in Better Call Saul has been absolutely incredible. And while the tone of the shows are quite different, they are both superior television shows that really should be experienced together. If you thought BCS was not for you because it was about a bunch of lawyers and didn’t think there was much drama in that, well guess again. Better Call Saul is extraordinary.


Brittany Howard—Jaime [2019]

I wasn’t sure what to expect when Alabama Shakes’ frontwoman Brittany Howard released her debut solo album, Jaime. I liked her band fine, but that’s all—a couple songs I really liked, a lot I thought were kind of meh. Once I listened to Jaime, though, I wondered if Ms. Howard was holding back on us all a little bit.

Jaime is soulful, personal, emotional, and a delight to listen to. I can’t think of a better album to take you away from your (and the world’s) problems for a spell.


The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt [2011]

I previously reviewed Patrick DeWitt’s excellent novel after reading it initially almost two years ago—click here to read the full review. Full of incredible wit and beautiful dialogue, this tale of two brothers on the trail of a man they’ve been hired to kill, taking them from Oregon to California during the height of the gold rush. The story is more about the journey than the destination though, at least until greed takes hold of them and the story takes off in another direction entirely. Without a doubt one of my favorite books I’ve read in the last several years. Also, there is a movie adaptation that I’ve yet to see, so that’s on my own quarantine queue.


Nothing to Lose [1997]

Okay, so this one is my personal comfort food of a movie. It’s been one of my favorites since I saw it way back when I worked in a video store. It flew a little under the radar, which is a shame. I think this is one of the funniest movies ever made, and I can quote almost every line to prove it. Tim Robbins and Martin Lawrence in a twist on the classic buddy comedy in the vein of 48 Hours. Robbins plays an ad exec who grows despondent after he catches his wife cheating on him. He drives aimlessly and winds up in a pretty rough neighborhood, when Lawrence jumps in his car in an attempt to carjack him. Needless to say it doesn’t go as planned and hijinks ensue. The less said the better, though I will say their foes in the movie are played by the delightful duo of John C. McGinley (Scrubs and many other things that are good) and Giancarlo Esposito (Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, many, many other things that are good) and they are fantastic and hilarious. I recommend this movie every chance I get, and I’ll surely watch it again soon.

As for the other ideas I alluded to, get creative—literally! If you draw, draw! If you paint, paint! If you music, music! Hone your craft. Or, if you’re really feeling adventurous, take up something new! Start drawing, pick up a paintbrush, start writing a story or poem. Keep your mind active and create art. Because, you know, it’s still art even if it’s bad. Making it is the important part.

If this quarantine drags on as some suspect it might, I’ll make more recommendations soon. Stay healthy and wash your hands, everybody!

Calling All Bloggers and Book Reviewers!!!

I made the announcement about a month ago, but if you missed it: I have a novella in a new anthology from Tangled Tree Publishing, A Dark Spring, coming out April 11th. To promote the book, Tangled Tree is scheduling a release blitz April 11th-13th, and a blog tour April 28th-May 4th. In addition, **REVIEW COPIES ARE AVAILABLE** See sign up form below.

Whoa GIF by The Orchard Films

A Dark Spring features myself and seven other talented (and twisted) authors, spinning our best crime, thriller, and suspense yarns. I’m beyond excited for the release of the book, I can’t wait for people to read it! My story, Early Retirement, deals with love, loss, betrayal, and revenge. I hope y’all like it!

Image may contain: text

If you’re interested in reviewing the book or scheduling a stop on the blog tour or release blitz, CLICK HERE FOR THE SIGN UP FORM.

We Need to Talk About Kevin [2011]

I hadn’t planned on a blog post about this film when I watched it on a whim last Sunday. But here we are, three days later, and I still can’t get it out of my head. I had started reading the novel by Lionel Shriver years ago but never finished it. It was based mostly on letters from one character to another, and I remember that boring me and I ultimately gave up. Watching the movie, however, has put it back on my list—I really need to give it another shot. Any story, be it book or movie or television episode, that sticks in my head like that counts for something. So let’s talk about Kevin.

Kevin is, to put it bluntly, a monster. A clever psychopath who can be incredibly charming when he wants to be, the only person who actually sees Kevin for who/what he really is is his mother, Eva. The movie is from Eva’s perspective, as we see how she has handled not just trying to raise a downright evil child, but coming to terms with the (seemingly inevitable) horrifying crime he commits at school when he’s fifteen. There is also some ambiguity as to whether Eva may have contributed to Kevin’s cruel nature, as she was a happy, successful travel writer who put her career on hold when she got pregnant with him and thus resents his very being from the start, when he cries incessantly as an infant.

Eva’s husband, Franklin (played by one of my favorites, John C. Reilly) is blissfully ignorant to most of Kevin’s terrible behavior, because his son puts on a show for him as the good son whenever he’s around. Then, when anything does happen, Franklin is able to easily dismiss it as “boys being boys” or a simple accident rather than something more malicious. This pits husband and wife against each other in a years-long battle about how hard or easy to be on Kevin when he misbehaves.

We Need to Talk About Kevin is disorienting to watch, and intentionally so. The movie jumps in time almost at random—often all you have to go by in order to tell where we are in the film is Tilda Swinton’s haircut. It could be annoying but it works, for as the story goes on you realize that Swinton’s Eva is in a constant disoriented state, and not just after Kevin commits his act at school, but just raising him. He constantly has her off balance and waiting for the other shoe to drop. After the crime, she is just as on edge by the way the community turns her into a pariah, vandalizing her home and car, and cursing her out on the street. She’s far from perfect, in fact she’s really not even all that likable, but it’s almost impossible not to feel at least a little sorry for her.

Speaking of Swinton, her performance is incredible, as are all the performances across the board. Ezra Miller is riveting as the teenage Kevin, but the youngster who plays him as a child is equally good at being evil. Reilly is great as the naive dad, and even the little girl who plays the youngest child, Celia, is good. Swinton was nominated for a Golden Globe for her performance, but how she didn’t also get an Oscar nod is beyond me. The film also won awards for director Lynne Ramsay, who went on to helm the also excellent and disturbing You Were Never Really Here, starring Joaquin Phoenix. With these two films she has quickly made my list of directors whose films I’d watch based on their name alone.

It probably goes without saying that this movie isn’t for everyone. It does revolve around a massive tragedy, after all. But as I’ve mentioned before, sad stuff is my jam. If it’s yours too, you should watch We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’ll stick with you long after the credits roll.

Undone [Amazon, 2019]

A couple posts ago I mentioned that I was anxiously awaiting the release of the final eight episodes of Bojack Horseman, and I was not disappointed. The show’s ending was somber, bleak, yet somehow managed to be optimistic at the same time. It was a satisfying ending, with a final scene that I felt was pitch perfect, cementing its place among my all time favorite TV shows. If you never jumped on the Bojack bandwagon, I can’t recommend it highly enough. However, I’m going to talk about a different show created and produced by the same team behind Bojack, Raphael Bob-Waksberg and Kate Purdy. I’m here to tell you about a show called Undone.

Alma is living her life, working at a daycare, bickering with her sister and mother, when, after a fairly intense argument with her bride-to-be sister, she is in a serious car accident. Seconds before the accident, she thought she saw (hallucinated?) her dead father standing on the sidewalk watching her. In the hospital, she sees him again, and he speaks to her. He tells her that the accident and the subsequent coma she was in have awakened an ability in her—the ability to jump through time. He needs to help her hone this new skill, he explains, so she can go back in time and prevent his murder when Alma was eight years old.


The first episode of Undone is very straightforward, for two reasons: to give you a sense of who these characters are and what Alma’s life is like, and to get you eased into the rotoscope animation style used to brilliant effect in the show. Perhaps best known from the Richard Linklater film A Scanner Darkly, rotoscoping involves animators tracing over actual motion picture footage frame by painstaking frame. Once Undone gets to the meat of the story and Alma begins hopping through time, the animation helps push the surreality of the story.

Much like Bojack, the characters on Undone are complex and well-written, with flashes of humor thrown into the drama. As Alma explores her newfound powers with help from her dad, the circumstances of her dad’s murder begin to reveal a hidden story that shocks everyone involved. Despite not being the biggest Sci-Fi fan, I’ve always had a soft spot for time travel (the time hopping around season five of Lost was when I really hit my peak fanboy for that show). The problem with a lot of time travel plots, though, is that it’s easy for them to get incredibly complicated and hard to follow. I’ve long heard about the movie Primer, a time travel movie that by all accounts requires multiple viewings to even begin to understand what’s going on. This is another area where Undone succeeds—Alma’s father (played by the wonderful Bob Odenkirk, from Breaking Bad, Better Call Saul, and the cult sketch show Mr. Show with Bob and David) explains the science and theory behind the time hopping in a (fairly) easy to understand way, helping Alma, and us, follow along. Also helpful is the fact that rather than the normal hour long episode length for a show of this type, the show is instead spread over eight half hour episodes, making the mind-bending concepts easier to digest.

Undone has been renewed for a second season, so take the time to get up to speed on the first season so you’re ready to go when the next one comes along. Between this show and Bojack, I’m seriously beginning to think that Raphael Bob-Waksberg may be the most exciting storyteller working in TV today.

A Dark Spring Announcement and Cover Reveal!

A while back I talked about an upcoming anthology that I couldn’t quite discuss yet. Well the time has come! Tangled Tree Publishing has made the announcement, so here we go: A Dark Spring, the first anthology from Tangled Tree, is coming out April 11, featuring my story Early Retirement as well as seven other novellas from some ridiculously talented writers. Here’s the cover!

Cool, right?

I’ll paste their official announcement below, but man…seeing the cover makes it real, you know? There are a few links to preorder the book, Click here for Amazon, Click here for Goodreads. I’ll be posting again either about an album or a TV show, because I want to talk about both, but until then have a good start to your week!

𝗘𝗶𝗴𝗵𝘁 𝗼𝗿𝗶𝗴𝗶𝗻𝗮𝗹 𝘁𝗮𝗹𝗲𝘀 𝗼𝗳 𝘀𝘂𝘀𝗽𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗲 𝘁𝗵𝗮𝘁 𝘄𝗶𝗹𝗹 𝘁𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗹𝗲 𝘆𝗼𝘂𝗿 𝘀𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗲𝘀 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝗸𝗲𝗲𝗽 𝘆𝗼𝘂 𝗴𝗿𝗶𝗽𝗽𝗲𝗱. 𝗙𝗿𝗼𝗺 𝗺𝘂𝗿𝗱𝗲𝗿 𝘁𝗼 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝘂𝗻𝗸𝗻𝗼𝘄𝗻, 𝘁𝗵𝗲 𝗲𝘃𝗲𝗿𝘆𝗱𝗮𝘆 𝘄𝗼𝗿𝗹𝗱 𝗶𝘀 𝗲𝘅𝗽𝗹𝗼𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝗶𝗻 𝘁𝗵𝗲𝘀𝗲 𝘁𝗲𝗻𝘀𝗶𝗼𝗻-𝗳𝘂𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗲𝗱 𝗮𝗻𝗱 𝘁𝘄𝗶𝘀𝘁𝗲𝗱 𝗻𝗼𝘃𝗲𝗹𝗹𝗮𝘀. 𝗕𝗲 𝗽𝗿𝗲𝗽𝗮𝗿𝗲𝗱 𝘁𝗼 𝗴𝗲𝘁 𝘁𝗮𝗻𝗴𝗹𝗲𝗱.
Please welcome our eight talented authors:
M.Billiter – The Burning Rock
Ricky Wells – Author – The House on Oak Street
Author R. M. Gilmore – Gnarled
Author Laura N Andrews – A Tangled Oracle
Kim Deister – Author – Tangled Love
Kenneth Jobe – Early Retirement
Author Barb Shuler – Tangled Obsessions
M.C. St. John – We Only Want to Play
Amazon US:
𝑨 𝑻𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒍𝒆𝒅 𝑶𝒓𝒂𝒄𝒍𝒆 𝒃𝒚 𝑳𝒂𝒖𝒓𝒂 𝑵. 𝑨𝒏𝒅𝒓𝒆𝒘𝒔
In Oracle Vardalos’s dreams, people are murdered. News stories follow and the evidence piles up against her. She must save those she loves; even if it’s from herself.

𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑩𝒖𝒓𝒏𝒊𝒏𝒈 𝑹𝒐𝒄𝒌 𝒃𝒚 𝑴. 𝑩𝒊𝒍𝒍𝒊𝒕𝒆𝒓
They agreed it would be easier this way. Still, when it was over, all that remained was an empty saddle and a closed casket.

𝑻𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒍𝒆𝒅 𝑳𝒐𝒗𝒆 𝒃𝒚 𝑲𝒊𝒎 𝑫𝒆𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒆𝒓
He’s the Gomez to her Morticia, the center of her world. But everything changes when Tessa sees something she was never supposed to see. Love and sanity become tangled, leaving her teetering on the edge of the cliff, wondering if her life will ever be the same again.

𝑮𝒏𝒂𝒓𝒍𝒆𝒅 𝒃𝒚 𝑹.𝑴. 𝑮𝒊𝒍𝒎𝒐𝒓𝒆
Carter Kennedy returns to her father’s hometown after nearly twenty years to claim her inheritance. She quickly discovers why her father had kept her and her brother away from Scully’s Hollow and the people who inhabit it.

𝑬𝒂𝒓𝒍𝒚 𝑹𝒆𝒕𝒊𝒓𝒆𝒎𝒆𝒏𝒕 𝒃𝒚 𝑲𝒆𝒏𝒏𝒆𝒕𝒉 𝑱𝒐𝒃𝒆
Loyal husband and hard-working employee Richard Griffith has his world turned upside down. When he is dealt yet another bad hand and uncovers the identity of his wife’s lover, he reaches his breaking point.

𝑻𝒂𝒏𝒈𝒍𝒆𝒅 𝑶𝒃𝒔𝒆𝒔𝒔𝒊𝒐𝒏 𝒃𝒚 𝑩𝒂𝒓𝒃 𝑺𝒉𝒖𝒍𝒆𝒓
Injured and stranded on a mountain with the sun setting and no help in sight, Elsa Malloy has only two options—fight or die. Believing her loved ones are dead, and fighting against the elements of the mountain, Elsa is left to fend off a sadistic killer alone.

𝑾𝒆 𝑶𝒏𝒍𝒚 𝑾𝒂𝒏𝒕 𝒕𝒐 𝑷𝒍𝒂𝒚 𝒃𝒚 𝑴.𝑪. 𝑺𝒕. 𝑱𝒐𝒉𝒏
Teacher aide Julie Trudeau has noticed something odd among the remaining summer school students: they are playing a game of Telephone without moving their lips. When recess turns violent, it’s up to Julie and a ragtag group of staff and students to survive after the last school bell.

𝑻𝒉𝒆 𝑯𝒐𝒖𝒔𝒆 𝒐𝒏 𝑶𝒂𝒌 𝑺𝒕𝒓𝒆𝒆𝒕 𝒃𝒚 𝑹𝒊𝒄𝒌𝒚 𝑾𝒆𝒍𝒍𝒔
Spring break approaches and three middle schoolers look forward to their mini-vacation. But when one of them goes missing, Ann and Roger find that no one will listen to them. It’s up to them to rescue their friend or are they the next victims of the House on Oak Street?

After Life [Netflix, 2019]

I’m a bit of an odd duck. I suppose if you’ve been reading the blog for any amount of time you might already know that, but if you don’t, what I mean is that I’m especially fond art that is visceral. Movies and TV are no exception. Generally speaking, I don’t care for happy endings and everything wrapping up neatly with a bow on it. I don’t like shallow characters or fluffy, lightweight stories where you never really care what happens or who it happens to. And what I really enjoy, weird as it may sound, are sad things. Sad verging on (or delving into) depressing.

A great example of what I’m talking about is my current favorite TV show, Bojack Horseman, which is coming to a close with the release of its final 8 episodes tomorrow. The show balances humor with sadness in a way that still makes me marvel, and I’m worried/excited that the final episodes of the show will be devastating. However, before I jump into that lake-sized pool of depression, let me tell you about another show that accomplished much of the same emotional roller coaster ride for me: After Life.

As is often the case, I’m a little late to the party in talking about this—the show debuted on Netflix almost a year ago. It was one of those shows I had been meaning to get to but just never got around to, until, lo and behold, I had a lazy Saturday morning all to myself and decided to check out the first episode. Six episodes and several laughs (and a few tears) later, I sat in awe of what I’d just watched.

Ricky Gervais stars as Tony, a happily married dog owner and journalist for his town’s local newspaper. When he loses his wife to cancer, Tony is devastated. He considers ending it all, only to find he can’t because he doesn’t want to leave the dog behind—he cites the dog several times in the first couple episodes as being his sole reason to go on living. Instead, he decides that since life has lost all meaning, if he’s going to go on living, he’s going to do it on his terms, by doing and saying whatever he wants, to whoever he wants. He proceeds to act recklessly for quite some time and enjoys every minute of it. He even refers to it as his superpower. Since he has nothing left to live for (except the dog), nothing can hurt him. He can literally do anything. Tony then proceeds to try heroin, threaten a schoolboy with a hammer (much funnier than it sounds), and tell people off, usually in a very satisfying and spectacular fashion.

The feelings of despair and grief Tony experiences are well-written and palpable. If you’ve experienced loss recently (or even suffered a significant loss at all) the show could trigger some emotions, so brace yourself. Also sad and poignant are the interactions Tony has with his dad, living in an assisted living facility as he slowly loses his battle with dementia. In actuality, theses scenes in particular were the ones that got to me the most, due to the situation with my own dad right now (not dementia but poor health).

But don’t worry that the show is too depressing. Like I mentioned earlier in regard to Bojack, After Life succeeds in deftly balancing all the heaviness with incredible bouts of humor. Sharp jabs, wacky characters, and a bit about a baby who looked like Adolf Hitler that had my wife and I in stitches. This show is one of the only instances I can think of where a show 1) actually moved me to tears (it’s incredibly difficult for movies or TV to make me cry), and 2) had me laughing again before I even had the tears out of my eyes. And can you doubt you won’t be made to laugh by a guy who posts selfies like this?

The only real criticism I have with the show is its final episode, which I felt was a little sappy and heavy-handed as Tony realized what a nasty troll he’d turned into and decided to try and be a better person. But by that time, the ride I’d been taken on made a slightly ham-fisted closing few minutes easy to digest.

If you like your viewing experience both sweet and sour, I’d highly recommend giving After Life a shot. It served as nice preparation for the emotional storm that will come tomorrow as I begin watching those final episodes of Bojack. I am thirsty for more, however! Give me some of your favorite things that make you sad below, because I’ll take all the depressing and melancholy I can get.

Publishing News 2.0!

In my last post I alluded to possibly having some more news to share soon, and it has come to pass. The “ink” is dry on the contract so I can finally announce: Denver-based indie publisher Literary Wanderlust has agreed to publish my debut novel, The End of Jimmy Ray Day!

As I mentioned, they are an indie publisher, which means they don’t exactly have money to throw around. They’re editing and designing the cover, etc. but they wanted to be clear with me that I can’t rely solely on them when it comes to marketing and advertising—I’m going to have to get busy getting the word out there, both on social media and (gasp!) out in the real world. I see some readings and probably some conventions in my future, and who knows what else.

I’m not kidding myself, this is going to be a hard, lengthy process to get the book ready and actually out for sale (I’m not even entirely sure on the time frame, I just know the editor I’m working with is swamped with other projects, so it’s going to be a while), but I could not be more enthusiastic to do plenty of legwork to spread the word and sell some books. I’ll update as things move along, but for right now I’m just taking a moment to let it all sink in and digest the fact that I’m finally publishing a book. Best of all, my dad has been in poor health lately but he lit up when I gave him the news. He’s very proud, which makes me happy.

As for the book itself, it’s a quirky crime tale, with some drama, dark humor, and several not-too-smart characters. Here’s the blurb:

Rough and tumble repo man Jimmy Ray Day is sent from his home in Dallas to Bakersfield, CA by his boss ‘Big’ Bill Byrd with a special assignment: to take someone out—Bill’s own son, in fact—and bring back Bill’s grandson safe and sound. Jimmy screws the pooch in short order and spectacular fashion, and flees Bakersfield for the sleepy Mexican town of Cantamar, where he falls for a nefarious nymph who convinces him that in order to ensure her safety he’s going to have to perform at least one more dastardly deed. 

Before he knows it, Jimmy has a lunkhead from Dallas tracking him down and fears for the life of his young daughter. Jimmy must race from fCantamar to Wichita, KS to save his little girl from a hellbent Hispanic and a twisted Texan, both looking to settle some scores.

I’m sure that could be tweaked before it’s sent far and wide, but that gives you the gist. I’ll be back with updates or random posts soon, but if you’ll excuse me I’m off to do my happy dance.

Publishing News!

You know what’s always been a pet peeve of mine? When someone—a writer, a band, anyone—makes a vague pre-announcement to let everyone know they’re going to have another announcement coming soon. I always thought it was either, a) fabricated just to make people think things are happening behind the scenes, or b) some kind of precious way of announcing something when they could wait until they’re allowed to talk about said “big things coming” in full.

Well…guess who has two thumbs and has had a change of heart about vague pre-announcements since they have a vague pre-announcement of their own?

Yes, I’m a hypocrite. But! I do have exciting “pre” news!

I found out last week that a novlette I submitted in December is going to be published in a new anthology coming out this spring! Unfortunately, until the publisher makes the official announcement next month, all I’m at liberty to say is that I’ve been accepted and the contract has been signed.

This is the longest piece I’ll have ever had published, and the most high profile publication for me by far, so to say I’m anything less than excited would be an understatement.

There’s a lot of work to be done in the meantime, though. I just got my manuscript back from the editor, so there’s that, plus filling out promotional materials they want to send out after the announcement, but that’s all cake at this point. Plus, not to be a total tease, but I might (might) have more publication news right around the bend, too! Trying not to get too excited about that one yet, but either way 2020 is looking to be back on track for my writing and quite possibly my biggest year ever! Yay, pre-announcements!

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