Thirty Years a Junkie

Young Andrew Joyce

Young Andrew Joyce

Writing deadlines are looming, and a death in my extended family put Tornado Boy in my care for the weekend. I didn’t have time to pull together a halfway coherent post for today. Yet, somehow the serendipitous universe understood. Andrew Joyce, author of The Swamp, which I posted about 10 days ago, asked me to share this story from his youth. It’s gritty – a story of a man’s life spiraling out of control, and the bravery and determination necessary to fight his way back.

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Compared to some, I’ve lived an exciting life. At least parts of it were. However, compared to others, my life has been humdrum. The only thing I’m satisfied about is that all the drama took place when I was young and able to handle it. That would not be the reality today for I have grown old.

It’s confession time. I’m not looking for absolution. My only intent is to show some of you out there that there is hope. Nothing is forever. Perhaps my story might help you get to the next stage of your life. Maybe not, but I had help getting there, and I’ll tell you about it in a minute. First, a little background. And please, feel free to judge me. You cannot condemn me any more than I have already condemned myself.

When I was kid, I always had a wanderlust. I would see a freight train sitting on a siding, waiting to go on its way, and I would try to imagine its ultimate destination. Those open boxcars called to me. If I could only get into one of those cars, then I would be transported into a new life. Finally, I would see where the rails ended—that magical place. Then, and only then, would I know the secrets of the road. The secrets of the universe…

Source: Thirty Years a Junkie

Sunday Blog Share: 30 Fun Things to Say to a Complete Stranger on an Elevator

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30 Fun Things to Say to a Complete Stranger on an Elevator

by Brian Lageose

1. Thank you for choosing to fly with us today.

2. You know, it’s proper etiquette that you knock before you just barge in here.

3. What are your thoughts on public nudity?

4. Did you know that serial killers really like to push buttons that light up?

5. I don’t understand why it’s never the right floor when the doors open.

6. Because I’m free. Free as I’ll ever be.

7. Will you be my Facebook friend?

8. I couldn’t help but noticing that both of your shoes are the same color.

9. I sure hope the oxygen masks work this time.

10. If you stop on every floor, you get a candy bar.

11. We go together, like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong. We sure do.

12. I would have taken the stairs, but Jesus told me I shouldn’t. Not today.

14. Would you like the rest of my bagel?

15. If the elevator falls, and you jump at just the right time, you won’t get hurt.

(Continue Laughing: 30 Fun Things to Say to a Complete Stranger on an Elevator)

The Best Advice So Far – Book Review

unnamedThis is a book that I reviewed in 2015 and have been thinking about lately as so many people across the world struggle with feelings of disenfranchisement. Lots of us feel buffeted by events beyond our control and choices made by others. The beauty of this book lies in the affirmation that “You always have a choice.”

Erik Tyler is a frequent visitor to my blog, a friendly soul willing to engage with me and other bloggers who kindly comment on my posts. He sent me a copy of his book, The Best Advice So Far, which I loved, and therefore am pleased to share again.

In my 20’s and 30’s, I read personal growth books. Many of the lessons stuck, but many required too much work: hours of self-analysis, a spiritual conversion, expensive travel, learning a new practice, joining a cult, and wearing beads, headbands, and robes. I just didn’t have the time between working and raising a family. Being a happy person shouldn’t be that hard.

As unique individuals, we all define happiness differently. In the middle third of my life, I discovered that happiness, for me, is a wonderful side effect of integrity, authenticity, and kindness, an outward spreading of “the love.” Sometimes that takes the form of service, but more often it’s a way of being in relationship with others without all the filters, free of the junk I used to drag around, manacled to my ankle.

So, what does this have to do with Erik’s book…

What I loved about The Best Advice So Far is its simplicity. It’s a well-organized and beautifully written guide to cultivating the integrity, authenticity, and genuine kindness toward self and others that lead to satisfying relationships, and ultimately, to happiness. I’m a believer in the power of perspective and that attitude and approach have incredible power over our lives. This is where the power of choice comes into play. I may not be able to change my circumstances, but I have a choice about how I will perceive, process, and respond.

The book is not a religious, theological, or spiritual treatise, but rests on sound psychological principles and practice. In each chapter, Tyler introduces a topic based on his own experiences, foibles, and insights. The anecdotes are entertaining tales in and of themselves, and on many occasions, I found myself laughing or reduced to tears. I can’t remember the last time a “self-help” book touched me so deeply.

At the end of each chapter, Tyler offers Questions for Reflection and Discussion. They provide fodder for further growth, for journaling, for individual, couple, and group exploration. I plan to use some of them as topics for discussion with my adventurous women’s group.

CJIWfXjWEAAdJW3In my few interactions with Erik, it’s clear to me that his principles are in practice. I recommend this book to anyone who seeks a life of greater connection, meaning, and happiness. Enjoy.

Erik is an author, speaker, blogger, youth mentor, family advocate, singer, songwriter, musician, poet, people lover, creative force, conversationalist, problem solver, chance-taker, noticer, and lover of life. He lives in the Boston area of Massachusetts.

Follow his blog at: The Best Advice So Far

And browse his book on Amazon: The Best Advice So Far

A Writer goes to the Dump

images (1)From the Archives:

I’m a proponent of the belief that every experience contributes priceless raw material to a writer’s treasure chest. I’m a hoarder, cramming the niches of my brain with sensory inputs, emotional extremes, and reams of interesting and often useless information. No detail is too small, especially if it is painful or gross.

My husband’s back is on the fritz, so this morning I made my first solo trek to the town dump. Not a chore I anticipated with delight, I adjusted my mindset and used it as an experience-gathering expedition, adding several disgusting sensory inputs to my writing stockpile.

There are a few things you should know in order to fully appreciate this literary endeavor:

  1. It’s January in Oregon. That means it’s raining.
  2. Due to a series of unplanned mix-ups and timing obstacles, my husband hasn’t been to the dump in six months.
  3. Our trashcans are missing lids, having blown away during his previous dump trips (no comment).
  4. The back of our pick-up truck is full of logs.

After two cups of coffee, I don my wool hat, an old pair of mittens, a ratty coat, and my sneakers (a mistake). I clamber into the back of the pick-up, and start pitching logs over the side. My mittens are soaked within thirty seconds, and though I try to lift with my legs, my back is now whining like a teenager. Despite my freezing fingers, I’ve worked up a sweat and my wool hat is itchy on my forehead. As I kick a forty-pound log off the tailgate, I contemplate all the miserable discomfort I’ll subject my characters to and conjure up a few choice words for husbands that I stash away for future literary reference.

With the truck empty, I skirt the log pile and slog over to the trashcans. They’re lined up against a tall retaining wall with a mountain of trash bags piled on top of them. This was hubby’s solution to critters, which was not entirely effective, I might add. The top bags aren’t overly nasty, and half of them are bulging with stuff for recycling. I sling the lighter recycling into the truck bed and then lug the rest like a yoked peasant with no hope for a better life. Such is the back-breaking toil my villagers will endure for their cruel masters.  The conditions will be dismal—wet, filthy, and cold.

Now, I’ve unearthed the cans and, of course, the bags of rotted garbage are submerged (no lids, remember). They’ve been stewing in a fetid swill for months. I tip the cans over and the brown water pours out with a ripe stench that makes my head spin. It’s swamp water with half-decomposed bodies, the reek of a medieval midden heap. Thank goodness, it’s not summer or everything would be crawling with maggots and swarming with flies. I gag and breathe through my mouth.

The water-logged bags are bloated pigs and weigh a ton. I stab them with a pointed stick. Putrid water bursts out, drenching my sneakers. Lacking a choice, I heave them up with my soaked mittens.  They leak and dribble on my jeans. Not caring anymore, my brain numb to the horror, I grunt as I heft them to the tailgate. I’m a slave in the dank sewers outside the castle walls. I reek of death and drowning. Foul water splatters and pools in the truck bed. My poor characters are going to despise me.

The F350 is our chore truck, driven far less than our cars. I climb in and the distinctive odor of mouse shit assaults my nose.  Somewhere—in the seat cushion probably—a comfy little mouse family is waiting out the winter. To my core, I know the turds are lethal, but I make the ultimate sacrifice for the king of the castle and head to the dump. The truck smells so gross I roll down the windows for the ten-mile ride to town. Rain blows in with a stinging wind, but I bravely endure it over the stink. And I’ll remember this for when my protagonists hunker down in an old lean-to, thankful to suffer the icy drafts over the reek of vermin as they labor to rid the realm of evil.

Then, I arrive at the dump…

Sunday Blog Share: The Swamp

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This story is about 2800 words, longer than I would normally share, but what a story. Enjoy!

The Swamp

by Andrew Joyce

When I got into the car, he told me to call him Teddy Bear. It was 3:00 a.m. and I was hitchhiking. I was grateful when I saw the brake lights come on and the car stop about thirty feet from where I was standing. The car itself was not visible because the fog at that time in the morning was so thick.

As I’ve said, I was to call the driver Teddy Bear, which didn’t strike the seventeen-year-old boy, which I was at the time, as a strange or unreasonable request. The road was a deserted two-lane affair that ran right through a swamp, which accounted for the excessive fog. I was damn glad he had happened along. It was mighty wet and cold, standing out there on the side of the road.

Because of the low visibility, we were going about twenty miles per hour and Teddy Bear was in an expansive and talkative mood. He told me in great detail of his job as an ambulance driver. He especially enjoyed picking up and transporting dead bodies. Still no alarms went off in my head. As he talked, I noticed he was slowing the car down even more than was necessary, given the conditions. As he spoke of his fascination with death and dead bodies, I just sat nodding my head and agreeing with whatever he said. I was not about to be put out into that inhospitable climate again for being an inattentive guest. I had been let off from my last ride about four hours earlier, and in those four hours, I had not seen one car until Teddy Bear came along.

We traversed the winding road through the swamp at an annoyingly slow pace as I learned of the joys of being in close proximity to the dead. About fifteen minutes into our time together, Teddy Bear started fishing around in the console that separated us. He did not seem to be trying very hard to find whatever he was looking for; his eyes never left the road and at times his hand would stop moving and just lay there in the console. Then he said, “You know, I could kill you, throw your body into the swamp, and nobody would ever find you.” That got my attention! However, before I could digest the statement and make the appropriate reply, his hand came up out of the console and made for the area of my neck. He was holding the largest damn hunting knife I think I have ever seen—before or since…

(Continue reading: The Swamp)

Are you Book Club ready?

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Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have your book selected by a book club?

Well, yeah.

The main thing that makes a book “book club ready” is the presence of questions that invite discussion. For each of my books, I have 10 questions that I compiled specifically around the themes, characters, and reader experience of the book.

Book club questions (also called Discussion Guides) are common in many academic books and are often located at the ends of chapters or in the back matter. When it comes to general fiction, placing your book club questions in the back matter is the best way to get them noticed, but not the only way. You can also direct readers to your website where a separate page or pretty pdf is linked to your book’s info.

At the end of this post is a list of potential book club questions that you can customize for your book. I collected these over the years from multiple sources and separated them by topic (ie. characters, setting, themes). When compiling my lists, I try to mix it up so that book club participants have a variety of topics to choose from.

For example, here are the 10 questions for The Bone Wall. Some questions were altered to specifically fit the book, but they’re all derived from the generic list.

Book Club Questions – The Bone Wall

  1. the-bone-wall-ebookSeveral cultures occur in the book – Heaven, the Riverwalkers, the Colony, and the Fortress. Did the cultures feel authentic? Could you see such cultures rising in a post-apocalyptic world?
  2. What specific themes did the author emphasize throughout the novel? What do you think he or she is trying to get across to the reader?
  3. Why do you think the author wrote this? What is this book’s message?
  4. Two characters tell the story alternating chapters. How did this structure work for you? Were both narrators interesting to read or did you prefer one over the other?
  5. How realistic was the characterization? Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not?
  6. What moral/ethical choices did the characters make? What did you think of those choices? How would you have chosen?
  7. Rimma and Angel see themselves as twins. What do you think about their relationship? What was the real relationship between them?
  8. Rimma made a number of choices, good and bad. What choices were the most significant in bringing about the conclusion? Would you have made some of the same choices as she?
  9. How did the book affect you? Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way?
  10. Are you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not?

Book Club Generic Questions

Setting

  • What was unique about the setting of the book and how did it enhance or detract from the story?
  • How does the setting figure as a character in the story?
  • How authentic is the culture or era represented in the book?
  • How would the book have been different if it had taken place in a different time or place?
  • Is the setting of the story important to the book? In what ways?
  • If it’s set in the past, is this a period you know anything about? Would you have liked to live in this time? What would be the advantages/disadvantages?
  • If set in the future – do you think it’s a credible view of the future? Is it one that you’d wish on future generations?
  • If it’s set in the current time, what current events, if any, color the story?
  • Do the location and environment of the book color the telling of the story or are they merely a backdrop? Does the location change during the book or stay the same? If it changes, does this have any effect on the central characters?

Themes

  • What specific themes did the author emphasize throughout the novel? What do you think he or she is trying to get across to the reader?
  • In what ways do the events in the books reveal evidence of the author’s worldview?
  • Why do you think the author wrote this? What is this book’s message?
  • What are some of the book’s themes? How important were they?

Character Realism

  • Who are the key characters? Do one or more of the characters tell the story? If so, how do their own circumstances color the telling?
  • How realistic was the characterization? Did the actions of the characters seem plausible? Why? Why not?
  • Can you relate to their predicaments? To what extent do they remind you of yourself or someone you know?
  • Who was your favorite character? Why? Would you want to meet him or her?
  • Who was your least favorite character?
  • If questions…e.g. If the characters had done this instead, how would the story have changed?
  • Think about one of the minor characters in the story. Why did the author include him/her?
  • What effects do the events  (crisis, nationality, culture) have on the character’s self or personality?

Character Choices

  • What moral/ethical choices did the characters make? What did you think of those choices? How would you have chosen?
  • How do characters change or evolve throughout the course of the story? What events trigger such changes?
  • Are any of the characters’ actions troubling? How would you act in a similar situation? Do their experiences cause them to grow? If so, how?
  • Are the characters’ actions the result of free will or of destiny?
  • Is there any moral responsibility that was abdicated?

Construction

  • What did you think of the plot line development? How credible did the author make it?
  • Are there any symbols that may have cultural, political, or religious reference?
  • How are the book’s images symbolically significant? Do the images help to develop the plot, or help to define characters?
  • What type of tone does the author create with his or her world choices? Is it optimistic, pessimistic, prophetic, cautionary, humorous, satirical, venomous, cathartic?
  • Did the author seem to appear in the book? How? Why? Was the presence of the author disruptive? Or did it seem appropriate/fitting?

Reactions to the Book

  • How did the book affect you? Did certain parts of the book make you uncomfortable? If so, why did you feel that way?
  • Did the book lead to a new understanding or awareness of some aspect of your life you might not have thought about before?
  • Did the book expand your range of experience or challenge your assumptions?
  • Did you feel that the book fulfilled your expectations?
  • Are you satisfied with the ending? Why or why not?

Other Questions

  • If this book was made into a movie, who would you cast in the title roles?
  • What do you think will happen to the characters beyond the end of the book?
  • Have you read other similar books? Perhaps books by the same author or with a similar theme, or set in the same time period?

I hope these are helpful. Have fun getting your books ready for the next Book Club.

The Swan #writephoto

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The reaper perches on her bedpost, obsidian feathers secreted in the ebony of night. Below him, the woman lies supine, one leg extended, toes pointed. Her thin arms arch upward in a dream, supple as wings in spite of the brittleness of her bones. He understands her grace, the persistence of her soul’s dance.

Moderato e maestoso. Her lips part as Tchaikovsky swells in her head. The scène finale. The reaper cranes forward, immersed in the sublime pathos of the song. She dips her chin in gratitude, elegant white feathers and fingers cupping her heart. The reaper weeps and splays his black wings. Her dream ripples across the lake and she glides into the golden light, forever a swan.

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Thanks to Sue Vincent of the Daily Echo for another mesmerizing #writephoto Thursday prompt.