Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Support my Kickstarter!

Howdy, all!

I'm working on a new series of children's horror books called California Dreadfuls. It brings together California history, mythology, and cultures into a fantasy/horror setting for middle-grade readers. The first book is finished and I'm aiming to get the first four out in front of the world this fall! If you have the time and a few dollars to spare, please consider throwing some support my way!

The Kickstarter for California Dreadfuls is right here!

Here's an excerpt from the first book:



After about 20 minutes of walking on this new path, we start to hear something new. Off in the distance, somewhere behind the fog, I can hear the sound of crashing waves. It’s a comforting sound, too. Even though I live in San Francisco and I see the ocean every day, I don’t always hear it.  I may smell it just about every day when the wind is right, and I really smell the depths of the ocean when I walk by Fishermen’s Warf, but I’m often above the ocean, with a view of buildings set against the Pacific way down below. Being so close to it and having the waves be the loudest noises around us is a very rare occurrence for me. For just a moment, I stop being worried about where this joke is taking us and I start imagining sitting above the ocean with the fog just clearing enough for a good, rich sunset.
We walk silently for a good long while, and I become aware of a cliff off to our left. The trees have cleared somewhat and I can see part of the way up a huge hill to our right. There are scattered groves of trees on it and the tall golden grass that California is known for.
Suddenly, we walk into a small patch of trees. The trees aren’t like the trees that we’ve been walking through all afternoon. Instead of tall pines and redwoods and wind-blow cypress, they’re skinny white trees that I haven’t seen before. The bark is white and papery, kind of like the eucalyptus that I’m used to seeing, but also more firm.
“What are these trees?” I say to Ji. “Something about them is totally out of place.”
“Yes,” says Ji. “I noticed that, too. I don’t think that they exactly belong on the west coast of California. At least, they’re not anywhere else where I’ve been. We’re almost where we need to be, and it’s not going to be sundown for a couple of hours. Do you mind if we rest here for a while?”
I shake my head. “No, that’s a good idea. Let’s have a drink and sit down for a few minutes. How much further is it?”
“Not much. We need to be able to see these trees from where we’re going.”
My mind is racing with a million questions, but I decide not to ask any of them. Ji is a joker when he wants to be. He hasn’t given me any sign at all that he’s joking, but I know that at any minute, he could turn around and change his whole attitude. And then, next thing you know, we’ll be at his parents’ campsite. So I don’t ask all of those burning questions that my mind is just begging to ask.
Ji pulls out a couple of canteens from his pack and we sit and look at this grove of strange, out of place trees. The one in front of me has a name carved into it: Matthew Summers. Then, I notice that another one right next to it has a name: Martha Reynolds. I point this out to Ji.
“Look at the one you’re sitting on, Martin Ramirez. And over there is Jane Robinson. I noticed that, too. I figure that one day, a class took a field trip here and they each picked their favorite tree. Carved their names.”
Then I notice something else. At the bottom of the tree that says Matthew Summer, there is something else written. I have to move some dead leaves out of the way to make out what it is. “It says, ‘1974.’ Do the others have the same thing written?”
Ji and I crawl around pushing brush out of the way with our hands and calling out what it is that we see at the bases of the trees.
“1965.”
“This one says 1980.”
“I’ve got a 2001.”
“Here’s the oldest one yet, 1962!”
“1959, over here! Look, they get older the deeper you go.”
We spend more time looking at the names and years than we spent resting. We are pretty deep into the grove of trees when Ji says, “Horatio James here has 1897 written on the bottom of his tree. That’s before the quake!”
We look at each other. We look past Horatio Alder’s tree and see how much deeper the grove goes. “How far back do you think it goes?” I ask.
“What do you think they mean?” Ji ask.
Suddenly, it is as if the sky gets darker, the fog gets denser, and I get the feeling that a thousand ants are crawling up my back. “Have you noticed that we haven’t heard one bird sing since we came into these trees? Not a bug or a rustle?”
“It’s like,” Ji said slowly, “a graveyard.”
I look at him and make a quick laugh, hoping he would laugh, but he is pale.
“It’s not a graveyard, Ji! People don’t get buried under trees. It’s some kind of a prank or some art project or something.”
“No, An. Maybe not graves, but markers. Like the markers on that cut redwood back on the trail. A record of something.”
“Let’s get back to our stuff!” I almost yell this. Then, as if we have planned it, we both start running through the woods. Mixed in with our footsteps, we hear our breathing, and somewhere in both of our heads, we feel like someone is chasing us. When we get to our packs, we don’t even slow down. We just reach our arms out and catch them and keep on running down the path to the other side of the woods. With that dreadful feeling of being chased still ringing in our minds.


Monday, June 16, 2014

Attention Shoppers: I Actually LOVE having Four Daughters

I do most of the shopping in our family. I do the cooking, so I like to do the shopping as well. When I go shopping, I love to take all four of my daughters along. I try and sell it as a fun way to spend time together, and point out that they're learning about stores and foods and all kind of things. We have a good time and they mostly behave. I catch a little too much praise for this from fellow shoppers, but I also catch a lot of comments about the "unfortunate" state of my condition as a father of four daughters. It's one of the most maddening things in my life that people feel I need their sympathy, when indeed I feel I am the luckiest person in the world.

The other day, my family walked to one of those mailbox stores where you can buy cards and ship things and that kind of thing. We mailed off child-made Father's Day cards that were only going to be a day late upon arrival. The guy at the register was, evidently, the owner of the store and quite a friendly chap. He looked at us and said, "Three kids?" then took a better peak over the counter and saw the little one, "Four?" he said with surprise. Then he took a second to weigh hair length and clothing before saying, "All DAUGHTERS?" My wife and I smiled and confirmed his suspicions. Then he did something utterly surprising. He laughed.

And laughed. And laughed.

This wasn't a chuckle, but an all-out belly laugh, huge and joyous. I smiled and laughed too, not at the fact that I have four daughters, but at the jolly reaction of this man behind the counter. I don't see strangers laugh with that kind of earnestness too often and I like it when I do. I was happy he was deriving--or creating or whatever--joy from us. We're a happy bunch of blokes walking around his store, go ahead, have a nice laugh. It was fine.

The fact is, I cannot begin to count how many similar incidents have peppered my life since the birth of my third daughter, much less my fourth. They vary from the most common "Poor dad!" reaction to the "I hope you at least have a male dog" reaction to "Going to try one more time?" comment. But the one that sticks out in my head more than any other, the one that I feel gave voice to the underlying feelings expressed by so many of the above comments, was when a woman said to my wife, "God sure played a joke on you!"

Yes, folks. Yes. God is playing a joke on us. That's what our lives boil down to. Here we were, mating like rabbits, hoping more than anything that we would get a male heir, and we failed. And God is laughing at our misfortune. That's exactly what's going on. I'm glad you had a few moments to get in on His divine prank and have your own chuckle.

But you know what? I don't feel like my life is a joke. When my oldest daughter, now nine, climbs a 75 foot rock-climbing wall in her climbing class in under two minutes, I don't laugh at my misfortune. When my second daughter, now eight, wrote a 42-page picture book for her little sisters, I didn't pout. When my five-year-old learned how to ride a bike nearly effortlessly thanks to her seemingly supernatural sense of balance, I think I actually might have felt pride, believe it or not. And when my fourth daughter, the two year old, belts out "Let It Go" at the top of her lungs, I sing along. I love having four daughters and I never feel cheated or tricked or otherwise molested by God or any other higher power. I feel like the light of the world shines upon me and that I should be the envy of the species.

I used to just nod and smile at these comments, but I now have a little few more constructive responses. They say things like "Poor guy!" or "You have my condolences" right in front of my daughters, right where they can hear. What are they supposed to think of I bow my head and take my beatings? So when someone asks if I am trying for one more time for a son, I say, "We're thinking of fifth girl." If they ask if I have a male dog at home (you wouldn't believe how often I get asked this question!) I say, "We did, but we had to put him down last winter. It was one of the toughest things in the world for us." This response is honest and it shuts them up pretty quickly. When they say that I am a "poor guy," I cock my head and say, "What are you talking about? I'm the luckiest guy in the world!" And when I get the obvious stated at me, "Four daughters!" I say, "Grand slam! We hit the jackpot."

And every single time that someone tactlessly says--loud enough for us to hear--"Oh look at that. That man has four girls. Poor guy" to their friend, I always stop what I'm doing and tell my girls (tactfully and out of earshot of the offender) "You guys don't listen to that crap. Ignore it as best you can. I'm the happiest person in the world to have you and I never once feel sorry for myself. My life is the best because of you girls."

There is one woman who I see when I'm out shopping who I just love. She is a Chinese woman who works at Costco and we see her about every weekend. She said to me the first time we met as she was giving out samples, "Where I come from in China, having four daughters is considered very lucky!" And ever since then, if we walk by or take a sample or if she checks our receipt at the door, she says, "There's my four lucky girls!" Yesterday, as we were leaving the store, she said to me, "I look forward all week to seeing your lovely daughters. It just makes me so happy to see your family."

I wanted to hug her. She is the only person who sees what it is I see when I look in the mirror: the luckiest man alive.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Just Give Up

I'm going through a rough time right now. The career that I've spent 12 years (and much more, if you count schooling) working on isn't working out at the moment. My family is at a huge crossroads and we have no idea what is next to come. My writing isn't exactly saving us. My books have a very gentle sales record and--to be honest--I don't know if I've made a total of five dollars from their sales in the last 12 months. This blog, of course, brings in nothing and it's not like I've been nurturing it lately. So as I face an unknown future, hoping something big will come along and save me and that I'll again stand among the successful and satisfied, I encountered some very stirring advice in a book I've been reading: Just give up.

This isn't about throwing in the towel. This isn't about cashing in your chips. This is about letting go of all your hopes for the future, but it's not about filling your pockets with rocks and walking off the end of a pier.

Why should you abandon hope? Because you're already okay.

If I think that having the best job in the world is going to save me, I can never be happy with the job that I get. There's always something better. If I think winning the lottery is going to save me, how can I be sure that even that would be enough? The way things are right now holds a distinct advantage over all those hopes: the way things are is the way things are. This is real. This is now. This isn't a pretend world in a designed future that we're talking about: this is me.

If you're not good enough for yourself right now, you won't be good enough for yourself later. If I write because I'm a writer, because I need to, because I want to express my own original thoughts through my own original voice, I don't need to be paid for it. Yes, there are plenty of people who make plenty of money doing that. But if I wait for the big contract to come around, if I am going to wait for that big book to bring in royalties, I could be waiting an awful long time. Instead of waiting, I'm going to be writing. And if the act of writing isn't good enough for me, if I need to be paid for it, then I'm not a writer; I'm a worker.

We have no real control over our circumstances. There are factors you can affect, but there is so much more that you can't possibly touch. Giving up on the illusion of control over all of this is liberating. My job situation was entirely outside of my realm of control. Most people who are out of work today did nothing to lose their jobs; the world shifted away from their condition of employment without their actions or permission. This is not a personal deficit, this is an environmental fact. By giving up, by seeing that you didn't fail, you can see that you are good enough without that success that you're dreaming of. You can recognize that success is most often an arbitrary issue, not a value judgement.

For every great American success story there is out there, there are thousands or millions of stories where someone had the best idea, had the best planning, had the best connections, and things didn't work out. Just look at Van Gogh and Melville, if you don't believe me. Their work could very easily have not been discovered and we never would have known they were geniuses. Just imagine how many revolutionary inventions, ideas, artworks there are out there that will never be discovered. And know that this is not a value judgement, it's just the shifting sands of coexisting with 7 billion other people on a single rock in the middle of a void.

You don't have to do anything wrong to be miserable. It is the basic state of the human condition. You don't have to screw up or fail to feel like you need more out of life. Everything can be great and it can never be enough. This is a fact that is exploited by our commercial culture all the time. So give up on some fantastical future where everything is just better. Think of your specific reality and see that it is here and now, it is real and you are you. If that's not good enough now, it never will be.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Why You Should Question Everything

You're in school, or you're in your job. You have questions and those above you have answers. Are those answers convincing? Or do they produce more questions? Now you're troublesome.

I've long said that the mark of an educated person is someone who has more questions than answers. I think that there is a lot to learn from answers, I really do. I think that we can strive for a better understanding and worldview just by exploring the answers that are out there on whatever subject it is you're discussing.

But I don't think we should always accept them. Mostly, I think they should be rejected. Why? Because they will eventually be rejected by everyone. It may take a while, perhaps centuries, but history has shown us one thing very conclusively: most theories are wrong. Most policies are wrong. Most ideas are wrong.

It's not just the "dumb masses," either. It's obvious when we talk about Earth-centric theories, or flat-Earth theories, or God punishing us with the plague. Those widely held beliefs were proven wrong by making the unobservable observable. But these people weren't stupid; their brains were exactly like ours, capable of the same complexity of thought. Our brains haven't changed in thousands and thousands of years. Even the smartest people throughout history have been proven wrong.

Copernicus was wrong when he said that the Earth traveled around the sun in a perfect circle. He was on the right track, but that's not enough.

Newton was on the right track when he came up with his laws of motion. But, as it turned out, his work was in large need of refinement.

Thomas Jefferson was on the right track when he declared that all people were created equal. It's just that he wasn't counting all people as actual people.

Banks were wrong in the 20s. And in the 2000s.

Every day, people are wrong about almost everything. History shows us that almost everything we believe, everything we "know" to be true will be proven wrong on some level or another. That's how knowledge works. It couldn't move forward without a lot of people being a lot of wrong in the meantime.

I think that this should offer us insight into a very troubling rule: the only people who will be seen as "right" in the future, will be seen as "wrong" today. Or, at least, troublesome. Yes, plenty of thoughts and ideas change the world and are proven within that intellectual's lifetime,but many, many more are not. Because right place, right time is a very rare cooperation of circumstances.

But take comfort: if you're seeing things a different way--in your job, in your school, on a blog post--you have a better chance of being right by questioning the validity of commonly-held belief than those people do by holding on to them.