A Season of Transition...

Since my daughter joined us last spring, I've been with her every morning of her life. One year after her birth, we've arrived at a place where she wakes me in the morning with a simple, "Dada!" over the baby monitor.

It's been a revelation and a blessing, that time spent in the mornings together. While we're still figuring a lot of this out as we go, I have a lot more confidence in myself as a father. Lyla has made that pretty easy, with her independent temperament and affectionate spirit.

All this makes me a little nervous as she and I transition to different schedules beginning next week. While I'll still be her morning wake-up call, I'll need to be at the college by 7:30 a.m. a couple of days to start my office hours. That means she'll be in all-day daycare, which seems like a lot of time to us. We'll be picking her up between 3:00 and 4:00, but still...

I taught a full load in the fall of '09--seven classes, all at night. It was nice to have mornings with Lyla, but I missed my wife and our evenings together--the walks we take and the chance to break bread together. I missed helping out with putting our girl down to bed.

I'm off contract in the spring, so I had a lot of time with Lyla and a lot of time to tackle some of our goals. I did a little bit of writing, but not nearly as much as I had in previous years. Instead, we worked on installing a new back yard and getting the house ready to be painted (Behr, Nevada Sand was the choice). We'll paint this sucker this weekend.

I'll be away in the middle portion of next week, then we're hosting friends for The Players Championship next weekend. There is lots to do and accomplish.

And so we'll both have to adjust to a new set of routines. That's good in many ways. I enjoy the energy of Deerwood Center and I miss a lot of my colleagues and our daily interactions, and I'm excited for Lyla to have more social time with children her age.

But I have to admit, a part of me will feel a little bit sad when I have to drop her off in the mornings with the knowledge that that time used to be ours alone. It'll pass and we'll adjust, but the idea is tough to take as I sit here writing and she is sleeping in her crib in the next room over...

Between finals week and working on the house, my posting here will be sporadic. Still, when things settle in during that second week in May, I look forward to sharing some good news on a couple of stories that will be published soon.

Be safe and enjoy the spring. It's a good time to move forward with new challenges...


Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss"

The University of Oklahoma's World Literature Today recently published an excellent issue on World Science Fiction. I'll have more to report on that later, but I just received my copy in the mail yesterday and was simply blown away by Kij Johnson's "26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss." This is a quiet, wondrous tale of redemption, magic, connection and epiphany.

Johnson's beautiful, fluid prose and strong characterization make this story move. It's told in stripped-down vignettes. Aimee, the protagonist, is a woman adrift in her life, searching for companionship and solidity. She finds it in a travelling troop of twenty-six mismatched primates and boyfriend fifteen years her junior.

The story defies summary, to its credit, and the explanation for Aimee's magic trick is...well, it's just beautiful...


How We Get Down!

The Powells just burst into 3:45 of unstoppable group dance to this one. Man, that little thirteen-month-old girl can cut a rug. Thanks to A-ha for utterly killing it on this one...


Random Collection of Thoughts

After two days of going around in circles with the seriously inept people at Rountree Sod, our grass was finally delivered. We installed it last night and, despite the poor customer service, the product is beautiful.

One thing we need to do is roll the grass. The only problem is, we don't have anything remotely circular to do the trick. Jeanne's idea?

"I thought we'd roll you around the yard."

There you have it: 190 pounds of man, shrouded in an old blanket and pushed around the yard like a bored kid on a steep hill at an outdoor concert. That, or we can go with the patented Nebraska Sodbusting Baker, which is where I give Jeanne the rolling pin I use to flatten out my pizza-pie crusts and then grab her ankles and push her around the yard like we're last place in a wheelbarrow race.

Thank goodness for back yard fences...

The Jaguars drafted a decent player yesterday, but they waaaayyyyy over-reached on Tyson Alualu. He's good; I've seen him torment the Oregon Ducks for three years. But still...at #10? I'm disappointed we didn't draft Jason Pierre-Paul. And good luck to Tim Tebow with my beloved Denver Broncos. I imagine his drafting will be the thing that gets that jackass Josh McDaniels fired, which should have happened a year ago. Josh McDaniels is a jackass.

My beloved Baltimore Orioles are simply wretched. They are so bad, and I actually had hope. Hope springs eternal, unless you root for Baltimore, I guess.

I've had two items of good news on short story placements in the last week. In fact, I've signed two contracts. More information forthcoming when the time is right...

Enjoy the weekend, everyone. Eat some good food, have some good laughs, tell some good stories, enjoy some good rest!


A Serious Talk

Sometimes, when I haven't written any fiction for a period of time, I find it useful to simply sketch out a scene. It's usually a snippet of dialogue; sometimes it's a brief description or a fragment of a dream. It's usually short--a couple paragraphs or so.

I've been meaning to put words to a scene I saw last week while jogging on Atlantic Beach. There was a couple having what looked like a very important (but sorrowful) conversation...

He studied her. She was a pretty woman at the cusp of a major change—a tidal shift in her way that would signal the start of a different life for them together. She walked ahead of him on the beach, slowing her gait so he could keep up in the chair.

When they had reached the place where the beach gave rise to sheer rock cliffs and they could go no further, she sat on a stone and patiently waited for him to catch up. The day was cool, the salt air whipping off the ocean to sting rose blooms from her cheeks.

They sat in companionable silence for a time before he spoke; in his mind, he’d practiced the speech until the words were as natural and vivid to him as his condition.

Six years. He had practiced the speech for six years.

“It’s not something I ever intended to have happen,” he said. Internally, he congratulated himself for the steady tone of his voice. “It’s certainly not a thing I’d ever wished to know about. I would have been happier not knowing.”

She turned to face him, the cliff casting half her face in shadow. His wife—her two faces.

“I know,” she replied. “It was an accident, and...”

“I don’t mean that,” he said. “I'm not talking about what happened to me. I'm talking about something that happened to you. And I want you to know that I wasn't trying to be sneaky. The first time it happened, I was just trying to surprise you. You’d left your purse behind, and I didn’t want you to be embarrassed at the check-out line. You didn’t see me, even though I was there. I watched you cross the lobby.”

“The lobby?”

“The first time, it was the Marriot on Wilshire. You’ve been there a lot in the last few years. Thirty-two times, if my math’s right.”

Realization. Keen, sudden realization. Her features crumpled inward, her jaw trembled; she snatched a quick breath.


He turned his wheelchair to face the ocean. The tide was coming in, pushing swaths of foam by incremental lengths with each new wave.

“It’s okay,” he said, his voice low. “I’ve made my peace with it. With all of it. And I love you. I always have.”

She was weeping, the fading sunlight glittering in her tears like shattered glass on the pavement.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispered.

He worked the chair. It was part of him, that chair; six years had seen to that. He went to her, touched her arm.

“I know," he said. "It was an accident,” he said.

He felt wetness on his cheeks and it was all very unexpected when she reached forward and pulled his head to her chest...

There. Now back to my regularly scheduled naval gazing (meaning the sci-fi story I'm working on for 2010)...

The Wilhelm Scream

Been awhile since I taught a class on American cinema over at Florida State College, so I thought I'd catalogue a few resources here on the blog. This is a neat little discussion of some insider sound editing.

I haven't finalized the roster of films we'll be looking at, so if you have suggestions I'm all ears...



The River Runs Low Tonight...

I have a tape deck in my truck. Yeah, many of you reading this probably haven't ever seen a cassette tape, but they used to be the cutting edge when it came to technology.

When I was a kid, my pop used to take me to soccer practice. On the way, we'd listen to Bruce Hornsby's first big album, The Way It Is. Well, the more life changes, the more is stays the same, because I have that tape in my truck and Lyla and I listen to it all the time. I was struck yesterday by how much I like this lyric:

The old man's getting on
Keeps the morning paper in his overcoat
It keeps him warm in the cold storm
And he told me today I look a little lonely

Up in the air they're heading south
The sky is light to the west of town
With a little cash I could get around
You know I'd come out there and find you

You can listen to the song here...


How We Find Out About Faculty Meetings

This footage was taken before a meeting of Florida State College's English department last week. You'd think the beer-bottle thing would be an inefficient way to get the word out, but now that I've been at the college I can't think of any other way...

Publication on Kindle

My revenue streams are fairly uniform; they've been about the same for years, and look like this:
  • Income from the college;
  • Income from the occasional sale of an essay or story;
  • Income from the occasional birthday card from Mom;

One of my goals in 2010 was to create another revenue stream. I thought about asking my sisters for money for my birthday, but I like getting actual gifts. At thirty-two, it's pretty unlikely that I'll be drafted this year for the NFL. Call me if you need a wideout, Gene Smith...

But I'm pretty surprised by the Kindle book I put up last summer. It's there on the right of the blog, a shortish novel called An Autumn Harvest. I wrote that book in 2008 and didn't really do anything with it, moving quickly to the detective story I wrote in 2009.

Part of my trepidation about the book was what it was. It's a ranch novel peppered with Greek mythology; it's a touch of romance, a dash of quiet horror. I didn't expect much from it when I put it on Kindle and, while it hasn't set the world on fire, it sells enough copies here and there to buy an occasional pint. I think the Kindle and the I-Pad really are levelling the playing field for writers. It's gratifying to see...

Spent the week working with track changes on two projects that will published in the coming weeks. I'll have more news soon, I hope...

Enjoy the weekend, folks. Eat some good food, share some laughs, tell some stories, be well...


So You're Thinking of Moving to Jacksonville?

One of the most pleasant surprises of our great trip home to Oregon last week was the revelation that a couple of close friends from Portland might relocate to Jacksonville in the near future. These are good people, and it would be fantastic to have them close by in Northeast Florida.

As inquisitive and well-prepared types, they asked a couple of good questions about life here on the peninsula. I thought it might be useful to lay out some of our views on our adopted hometown and capture them here on the blog. If keeping this journal has taught me anything, it's that folks from all over pop in (occasionally, they even find something useful!)...

I'll answer these in order.

  • The plant is located off 295 near New Kings Road; good neighborhoods nearby? I wish I had better information for you on this, but I don't know nearly as much as I should about that side of the St. Johns River. We live about 15 miles away in the Mill Cove area. That said, I think it would be an easy commute from my favorite Jacksonville neighborhoods: San Marco (and here), Riverside and Five Points. In a city so dependent on cars, I think the key is to find a walkable area for when you're at home that still allows for a reasonable commute (mine is 12 miles but takes only about fifteen minutes, thanks to 9A).
  • We'd like to rent a home with a pool, but didn't see many on Craigslist. Are they uncommon? I wouldn't think so. We checked out two homes with pools when we were in the market for our current home (out of maybe nine or ten in total), and there are loads of pools in the Hidden Hills area (near Fort Caroline--a great exurban neighborhood). My sample size is small, but I'd think it wouldn't be a problem.
  • Would you consider Jacksonville to be a dog-friendly city? We take Lyla to the swings at Ed Austin Regional Park four or five times a week and the place is simply filled with dogs. There's a leash law there, but it's not always observed, and that's fine. I don't see any conflict. There are a number of dog parks, including one at the beach.
  • I've read that it's not a bike friendly city--would you agree? In a word, yes. I biked to work my first year here and was honked at and yelled at a number of times. Even worse, the city considers Southside Boulevard a bike route, and there's literally six inches of "space" on the road for bikers. That said, I enjoy mountain biking at Hannah Park and the Baldwin Trail often (not to mention Fort Clinch, which is a nice day trip to Amelia Island). I bike here, but not to work. And besides, my preferred method of travel is by kayak...
  • Is it a runner-friendly town? This is a first-tier running town. From the Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon and 26.2 With Donna (The Race to End Breast Cancer) to the Tour de Pain and the Gate River Run, Jacksonville has an active, avid and thriving running community.
  • I've noticed the group runs start earlier than we're used to. Is that to beat the heat? It is. One of my best friends at the college is heavily invested in leading the group runs (Chris Twiggs is a talented runner and danged good guy), and they start early for just that reason. I ran the Celebration 5K last Fourth of July and I've never been hotter. It started at 7:30. You get used to it, or you run on the beach, where there's always a breeze and it's ten degrees cooler. That said, I run all the time in the heat of the day in the middle of August.
  • Any good community centers to join? We love the First Coast YMCA. Love it. From hoops to swimming to yoga to family activities and everything in between, we've really enjoyed it. The best facility is the Brooks Family YMCA. This is a top notch organization.
  • We try to eat locally and organically. Is there a grocery other than Whole Foods that caters to those requests? The Fresh Market serves the beaches. Native Sun serves the Southside. Plus, there's a wide network of farmer's markets, from the Green Market at Neptune Beach to the great RAM--one of the best urban markets in America.
  • Are there any community supported agriculture programs? There are. One of the city's better neighborhoods, Springfield, is home to the Springfield Community Garden. There are similar gardens in Avondale, Riverside and Five Points (and probably loads of other places as well).
  • Are there mostly chains, or a healthy number of quality local places to eat as well? While there are loads of chains (mostly barbecue), we've discovered some great places to eat as well. Our favorite in the area is Cap's. Sooooo good! But we also like Lemongrass, Blue Bamboo, Mojo Southern Blues Kitchen, and The Surf. We've heard great things about Chew, Salt, Singleton's and Clarke's Fish Camp. Believe me, I get full...
  • The city seems sprawling. How is the traffic? It is a maze of sprawl. It's the largest city in the country by landmass. Still, where we live the traffic is fine. Like I said, my commute is easy. Jeanne's commute to Forrest High School is a little rough in the afternoons, but it all depends on where you live and which primary roads you take. Unless you live within five miles of your workplace, I'm not recommending living much further south than Baymeadows Road. That's just me, and many of my colleagues live at the beach or in St. Johns County. But hey, why not try the Belle Rive neighborhood if you're down there around Baymeadows? That's a nice part of town...
  • Walkable neighborhoods? San Marco, Riverside, Avondale, Five Points, Springfield (when the construction is done) and any and all of the beaches (Jacksonville is my favorite--a little younger vibe).
  • What is the political climate like? It's like Florida's weather--hard to forecast. Obama actually won Duval County, which was surprising. And there are many pockets of progressive politics, but make no mistake about it: this area is largely conservative. The Southern Baptist Church owns a huge amount of property in the city center, and religious views play a strong role in local politics. As an Oregon democrat, I get the chance to talk politics all the time down here! Regardless of political philosophy, the people here are kind and willing to agree to disagree. Stubborn, but kind...
  • Do you go to the beach often? We live less than six miles from the beach. Jeanne and Lyla and I go together about once or twice a week right now. It'll be daily in the summer. I go an additional time or two to jog. I'll be running on Bay Street tomorrow afternoon!
  • Are the beaches nice to use or super crowded and touristy? The beaches communities are as laid back as you could ever imagine. Sure, spring break is a zoo, but that's Florida. The beaches are spacious and covered with fine sand. The beaches are fantastic, and I'd recommend you look to live somewhere on this side of the river for that reason. It's a harder frequent trip from San Marco.
  • How has it been to meet people down there? We've both made great friends here. We could both probably make a greater effort to accumulate more (we just made one though; she recently turned one!). Hey, if you guys come to Jacksonville you'll be three friends ahead of the curve. Seriously, it doesn't have a downtown like Portland. I love my neighborhood bar and I've met some folks to play golf with, but it's not like heading down to the Rialto...
  • Is it hard to meet young people there, or do I overestimate the retiree crowd? There are lots of retirees and snowbirds. But not nearly as many as I expected. Working at a college the way I do, it seems to me the place is bursting with young people. The beaches, in particular, are very vibrant.

I love living here.

I enjoy fishing from local piers and the top of my kayak (I go out about once a week) and going to the beaches and the Riverside Arts Market and the zoo and the Cummer Museum and MOSH and the Spanish Pond with my wife and daughter. I enjoy playing golf in 70-degree weather on Christmas Day. I love the wildlife and the access to fresh seafood and sitting in the yard reading a book with a cold margarita. I like the Caribbean influence on the population and the food and I like going on dates with Jeanne to places like the San Marco Theatre.

I like driving to spring training baseball and going to Jacksonville Jaguars games and visiting Tampa Bay and St. Augustine and Amelia Island. It's nice to visit Georgia and South Carolina. It's located very near great hospitals and top-notch universities (UF, Jacksonville University and UNF, among many others).

I've been blessed to meet great people here--folks who will always be in my life.

On the other side, I wish there was more tolerance in this town. From sexuality to race to religion, this place could stand to acquire some more empathy. I wish there were more walkable neighborhoods, and a greater attention to environmental conservation. These are values Jeanne and I have consciously tried to impart in the students we work with, but it's an uphill battle.

I'd like to have Mt. Hood here as well.

I miss my family and friends from the West Coast more than any other aspect. I know we'll return to Oregon at some point, and I'm excited for it, but this is my home right now and I do sincerely appreciate it.

Like anything, home is what you make of it. This place has become ours...


The Oregon Trail

We're in Oregon until next weekend. Lyla was a wonderful traveller, which was a blessing.

Just wanted to post a heads up if you're trying to contact me. My primary e-mail address is out this week as the college runs maintenance, so please accept my apologies if I don't respond until the week following spring break.

We're in Pendleton, then Cannon Beach, then Portland, then Jacksonville, then...

You Know When It's Good

If you spend any real time at the word processor, you understand that sometimes the writing flows and you just know in your heart and in you...