It takes a village to raise a book

The cover for The Emergent has been selected. But think about this:

If you participated in phase two of this part of the project (the cover poll for The Emergent), you have judged book covers so that others may judge a book by its cover. Up to the point when the cover poll was released, only a handful of people were involved in the design and content of the book. Now, thanks to you and your sharing the poll around, almost 200 individuals (a small village) have contributed to the book becoming what it will be. I think that’s pretty dope (to use a phrase from the 90s).

UPDATE: publication date is now 3/30/2022. At a later date, I will share info on pre-orders and an e-book flash sale so you and all your all your friends can get copies.

Okay. Here’s what you really came for:

At the beginning of the process, I pulled a number of books off my shelves and shared their badass covers with the designer (see below). Other than an extended synopsis (with spoilers) of The Emergent, these book covers were the only thing influencing the designer in the first round.

The one below missed the mark completely; felt a bit like they did it quickly to fill a quota.

The second one (below) is supposed to evoke the Santa Clara Valley (the setting for much of the story). It’s a decent job of replicating the feel of another example I shared with the designer – a simple yet intriguing cover for an excellent book by an old acquaintance of mine.

Below are the two favorites. I asked for and got one “major” change. Can you see the difference?

While none of the endorsements appear in the images below and at least one minor correction needs to be made in the text, here’s what the ARC (advance reading/review copy) cover wrap looks like.

Lessons from a Tick

I would rather have lyme disease than admit this, but here goes: I have a tick.

After nearly two decades of working on The Emergent, you would think I had cured all the sentence-level “ticks.” Well, I have…now. A real buzzer-beater. Some serious Steph Curry magic. As I made my last pass of the manuscript last week, I discovered the tick. From now until publication, anything other than typo corrections is frowned upon.

What the heck is a “tick” for a writer? Generally, it’s a bad/clumsy habit in a person’s prose. For me, it was starting a sentence or a phrase with “there was” or “there were.” I discovered nearly 40 instances, made improvements to nearly all of them, and straight up deleted others. Here are some examples vs their re-writes:

There were reassuring whispers. When they stopped, I went searching for them.

vs.

The reassuring whispers stopped. And I went searching for them.

————

There was a question in her voice as she trailed off.

vs.

A question tinged her voice as she trailed off.

————

There were other stories that were just downright weird for Oso to be telling me.

vs.

Other stories were just downright weird for Oso to tell.

————

There was something changing in her that was somehow connected to the obligations she assumed.

vs.

Something was changing in her that was somehow connected to the obligations she assumed.

————

But there were two times that she changed the tradition.

vs.

She changed the tradition only two times.

————

When we arrived, the sun was out and there was no wind.

vs.

When we arrived, the sun was out and the air was still.

vs.

When we arrived, the sun was out and the air was still.

————

But there is rage and dissatisfaction in their music; it helps give me some idea of where the discontent of men comes from.

vs.

But their rage and dissatisfaction helps give me some idea of where the discontent of men comes from.

The Big Holiday Read

I’ve experienced 25 books this year. Granted, one of them was a children’s book. And much of my consumption consisted of audiobooks (can’t let my commute to work get in the way of a good story!).

But with a couple weeks off and my manuscript with the designer, I thought I’d try to reach 30 books by the end of the year by reading the hardcopies of the following books:

Mad at the World: A Life of John Steinbeck by William Souder (120 pages in as of now; if you know me at all, you know JS is my jam)

The Last One by Fatima Daas (debut novel from a French queer Muslim woman)

The Samurai’s Garden by Gail Tsukiyama (recommended by Aunt Dayle)

One Man’s Initiation: 1917 by John Dos Pasos (how is it I’ve never read any Dos Pasos? This is his debut; I’ve asked Santa to bring me the USA Trilogy)

This Side of Paradise by F. Scott Fitzgerald (rounding out the debut novel semi-theme, not quite sure how I missed reading this one over the years)

What would you recommend for my 2022 booklist?

Queen Lizzy is Unimpressed

Nic and I linger over breakfast during the autumn, entertained by the squirrels playing, forgetting where their food is, getting fat. We root for them to make it across the street, cheer when they’ve lived to cross another street. It’s the same every year here in the Midwest. This year, however, those little rascals seem to be particularly abundant. And this means that squirrel demise is on the rise: hawks, cars, falls from trees, loose power lines dangling from our utility pole listed as the cause of death in the coroner’s report. More than usual, the dead rodent this year dots my consciousness like spilled ink. Or a spreading pool of blood, as it were.

I once knew someone who, for religious reasons, travelled with a shovel in the trunk of their car, giving roadkill dignified ceremonies for undignified deaths. I was never sure how this person got their PhD—or ever made it to work on time: stopping for every dead animal they drove past. I am fairly certain this person did not grow up in the Midwest, where the accidental slaughter of wild animals is part of the landscape.

I do understand the sentiment, though. So on the several occasions in the past year when a fallen (but completely intact) squirrel lay lifeless in the street in front of my house (victim of a slippery utility pole or its stray electrical current), I have scooped up the rust-and-beige body with my yellow snow shovel and transported it to the wooded areas behind the property. I don’t go so far as to bury the poor bastards; but in my mind, it is more dignified to return the little guys to nature; at least then all the fat that they worked so hard to pack on in the closing days of autumn will not have been for nothing. I mean, isn’t there more dignity in being a snack for a turkey vulture than to be a pavement Jackson Pollock, innards forced out of either end?

The latter seems like a waste (unless you’re a diehard art fan), while the former seems to serve a purpose.

Just the other day, I transported the second little body of the week to the long grasses just beyond the 3-foot fence at the back of the yard, an offering to scavengers or worms. And today I worked from home. My office commands a fantastic view of the park, the capitol building seeming to sit atop the tree line. Backyard tree now with bare limbs, I had a clear view of a well-fed red tail hawk. We’ll call her Queen Lizzy.

In the past couple years of mostly working from home, I have never seen Queen Lizzy in our tree; she lives in the park trees a good 100 yards distant from my office window. She is graceful, soaring high on warm drafts in summer and darting at lower altitudes in winter. So to see Queen Lizzy not 20 yards from me—her white breast contrasted with her brown feathers and the gray day—brought my work to a grinding halt.  

Perched 15 feet up in the tree, she rotated her head 180 degrees each way. Then she spread her wings, quickly alighting on the 3-foot fence below. For several minutes, her head was on a swivel. She could not believe her good fortune, or she didn’t want anyone to see what she was about to do, or was looking at me incredulous at the stupidity of whatever animal she was hunting.

In a flash of brown-red-white, she hopped into the grass below, flew a few more feet and landed. It didn’t seem likely that the squirrel corpse I had laid there the day before would still be around: fox and coyote sometimes saunter through the park and they surely would have caught the scent of an easy meal. So I assumed Queen Lizzy had made a fresh catch of some living thing and was waiting for it to gasp its last under her death talons.

My curiosity got the best of me, as all I could determine from my vantage was that she was just standing over the body of her kill. I figured if she was startled by me, she could take her meal elsewhere in those death talons. I was a mere 15 yards from her when I stopped at the back fence line. She did not fly off immediately. Her dignity had suffered a blow: she was embarrassed for having thought the squirrel was alive, mortified to have been seen with a squirrel she herself had not caught. More than anything, though, she was unimpressed with my offering.

Queen Lizzy flew off, mumbling something about how dining al fresco didn’t mean the meal had to be cold, too.

Why I wrote The Emergent

I wrote The Emergent to unsettle perspectives.

I wrote The Emergent in order to subvert my very own American heterosexual white middle-class male point of view. As a matter of necessity, as a matter of progress, as a matter of allyship, white America needs to take a hard look at its history of oppression. And that task extends to the world of literature. But I do not believe that established white writers are capable of doing this; they have too much to gain by protecting the status quo.

Though I am certainly not an established writer, I wrote this book to challenge my own status quo. So, in the spirit of necessity, progress, and allyship, I will share at least 60% of my royalties from The Emergent with those searching for their writing voices.

Artwork by Lantz Huston @ shoebox tattoo

An open letter to the likely POTUS 45 voters in my circle

Off and on for the last couple weeks, I have been working on an open letter to you. Sending out the original letter would have had real, direct interpersonal consequences within my adopted family. Because so much was riding on it, I weighed paragraph structure and vocabulary word by word for dozens of hours.

In brief, the original letter was straightforward, and it stripped away all policy issues that we might get hung up on; my idea was that, if you decided to engage in a dialog with me, all that would be allowed in our discussion was POTUS 45’s fitness for office based only on his ethics and morals. And then—perhaps foolishly, perhaps brilliantly—I was going to ask you to consider these two issues before casting your vote.

And we can have that discussion if you would like. But not here.

You see, it occurs to me that most people—liberal and conservative—are tired and scared, whether they admit it or not. 2020 has been non-stop stress and anxiety. But maybe stress and anxiety could actually unite us.

This is to say, perhaps we need to take a long pause once a day and stop drinking from the firehose of anxiety-causing news and doomscrolling. Perhaps then we can focus on the good that our close fellow humans bring into our lives, regardless of political affiliation. Maybe then we can allow ourselves to get in touch with our humanity again.

I mean, I have failed to have any real conversations with anyone about baseball. Where’s the humanity in that?

Maybe you think most of what I’m writing about here is some hippie-dippy bullshit (and if you think I’m a hippie, I suppose we need to get to know each other better, because I ain’t no hippie). Or maybe you, like my liberal friends, think I’m being soft, that I have my head in the sand, that I am being unrealistic.

But my idea here is more realistic than believing that one of two political ideologies is the only way we can move forward. I mean, really, there’s little more that you or I could do right now (or even after the election) than be civically engaged in our communities, and voice our concerns to our elected officials. And vote.

So here it is: more of my vulnerability to make you uncomfortable. But maybe it will help us to truly start prioritizing our individual and collective well-being.

So here it is: the most important parts of my original letter.

Me & father-in-law Tom
(November 2014)

I write this letter to you as a person you have shared birthdays, weddings, graduations, and holidays with, a person who you grew up with, who you sponsored for Confirmation into the Catholic Church, who partied with you and swam laps with you in high school, who navigated Korean culture with you. I write as a person who has exchanged travel stories with you, who has traded stories with you about first loves and heartbreaks.

I write this because I am forever grateful to the rural-suburban Wisconsin family that welcomed me more than a decade ago. I write this as a person who has tailgated with you at Miller Park in snow and sun, a person whose commitment ceremony you attended in Milwaukee’s East Side, a person you have shared martinis with, and Old Fashions, and the Champagne of Beers, and the Beer that Made Milwaukee Famous. I’m a guy who has benefitted from your generosity, whether it was your donation to my book project, or a friendly payout after the Niners beat the Packers, or your treating me to a Friday night fish fry at MJ Stevens’, or your warm unhesitating Midwest hug. I write as a person who has waited with you for a deer in 4 AM flurries of November snow in the Kettle Moraine, as a person who has helped you tend your land, mow your lawn, whack your sumac, cut your trees, split your wood, and burn your brush.

I write this letter to you because you have played a part in my life, and/or you have given me perspective, and/or you were a close friend in lifetimes past, or you play an important role in my life now.

I write to you today as a person, not a “leftist mobster.”

I write to you as your fellow American, not a “coastal elite.”

I write to you to find common ground, not to find ways to further isolate us.

I write to bring us together, not to divide.

So I propose something scary: vulnerability. Call me or write in my blog’s comments section (since I am using StayFocused to limit my social media time to 10 minutes a day) and let me know what you think we could accomplish together.

Inevitably, we will find differences in how we accomplish those goals.

And I promise to do my best to be open-minded and be respectful.

But that only works if you can promise the same thing.

a white dude’s reading list for white folks

This is my non-exhaustive reading recommendation list for white folks. In no particular order:

*-not yet read; it’s near the top of my to-read list

native sonmen we reaped

 

A humble list of resources and black American perspectives

[You can read Part 1 of 2 here]

Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible…until you let the sun in.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

No matter a person’s political affiliation (is there any such thing as an apolitical adult anymore?), they are likely to have one of four frames of mind about rioting:

  • they understand it and condone it as a last resort of communicating outrage;
  • they understand it but don’t condone it;
  • they try to but don’t understand it and don’t condone it;
  • they willfully remain ignorant and don’t take the time to try and understand it

The common denominator with all of these mindsets is that they belong to people who believe that rioting is not an ideal method of communication.

1000

photo credit: Ryan Michalesko/The Dallas Morning News via AP

Today (and in the coming weeks, months, and lifetimes), white Americans have yet another opportunity to choose a riotous or non-riotous future:

  • The status quo (which continues the unending cycle: invisible racism turning into visible racism, which leads to peaceful protests that often turn violent, followed by blaming and distracting from everything but the root cause; the last phase of the cycle is apathy)
  • Change:
    • Most importantly, learn what it means to be an ally. As my friend Melissa Roshan says, LISTEN! Assume only one thing: that you don’t know a goddamned thing about the daily injustices of systemic racism. Take action based on cues from people of color.
    • Support and volunteer for political candidates who increase diverse representation in government, as my friend Dan Knewitz has been doing in Minneapolis for several years.
    • Donate to organizations like Ethel’s Club so that the voices will be given to “artists, creators, and practitioners working to empower people of color… doing positive work in their communities.”
    • Donate to after-school programs or schools with missions like Comp Sci High in the Bronx, where my old friend John Campos and the team of educators have made advancements in career opportunities through educational accessibility for under-served populations.
    • No White Saviors
    • The Conscious Kid
    • Brittany Packnett
    • Austin Channing Brown
    • The Loveland Foundation

A brief history of 400 years of oppression

Last week (was it last week? it feels like a lifetime ago), I learned about the first Memorial Day. On May 1, 1865, thousands of freed enslaved people held a parade in honor of the hundreds of Union soldiers they had spent several days exhuming and properly re-burying; the bodies had been hastily buried in a mass grave by retreating Confederate troops only months before.

I was irritated that I had never before heard of the first Memorial Day. Then I saw the George Floyd video.

Then the protests and riots began.

BLM KAJ

“Los Angeles Protesters were among those who turned out in cities across the U.S. on Saturday to protest the death of George Floyd at the hands of police.”
(photo credit: Nam Y. Huh/AP)

The first Memorial Day came back into mind today as I continued trying to process the ongoing peaceful protests and riots across the country. Something occurred to me: the freed men and women who organized the original Memorial Day (Decoration Day) likely had at least two expectations. One, that their gesture would be understood as genuine gratitude for the Union that had, finally, ended slavery. And two, that their gesture would be unmistakably political. The parade, after all, was staged in the very city where the Civil War began: Charleston, South Carolina. Black Americans, in my humble estimation, were signaling that they expected to be recognized and respected for their own outsized contribution to America.

Wouldn’t it also be reasonable for the freed people to expect after May 1865 that race relations in America would be different for their descendants? Some 10% of the Union Army was comprised of black men (there probably would have been more if white lawmakers hadn’t been so afraid of arming too many), and 40,000 black soldiers would die by the time the war was finished. And slavery was over—at least legally and overtly.

After all that bloodshed, as well as 246 years of forced unpaid labor in America and 89 years of building the white ruling class’ monuments to themselves and their hollow documents of life and liberty, the freed men and women must have thought reparations were in order. At minimum, those reparations should have come in the form of good-faith efforts by white Americans to act on a founding tenet: all men are created equal.

And yet here we are again. Protests against racial injustice in America speak a truth that is self-evident.

Protests against police brutality and racial oppression is an American tradition. Watts (1965). Newark and Detroit (1967). 125 US cities (1968). Miami (1980). Los Angeles (1992). Cincinnati (2001). Ferguson (2014). Baltimore (2015). Charlotte (2016). And that is only over the last 55 years. It stands to reason that all the lynching which went unchecked by law & order from the 1870s to the late 1930s was a form of police brutality. Silence was consent. And that resulted in The Great Migration, during which black Americans were refugees in their own country.

Unfortunately, this migration didn’t change the system enough over the years, as there are no major cities in the US—north or south—that have been immune to the unrest over the decades. And even today, smaller Midwest towns and cities (e.g. DeKalb, Des Moines, Davenport, Madison) have seen peaceful protests turn to violence.

It is clear that there is a correlation between oppression and protests-turned-riots here in America. What is not clear, however, is how the protests turned violent. At least not yet with this most recent flare up. I am immediately suspicious of anyone who says with confidence that, “It is a subset of cops” or “It is white supremacists” or “It is Antifa” or “It is the anarchists.” In reality, any and all of these groups could have active provocateurs at the protests. The conditions of racial tension are ideal for any and all of these groups to achieve their aim: to sow discord (albeit for different ends). It is also true that the group(s) responsible for inciting the violence really just depends on which “news” service or social media “friend” can provide an individual’s preferred narrative.

In the end, who instigated the riot in Minneapolis or Anywhere, USA doesn’t fucking matter. The conditions for peaceful protests and riots as they pertain to race are ever-present but often invisible, especially to the white majority. It’s just that now—as at so many other times in America’s turbulent, oppressive past—the conditions exist in which the murder of another unarmed black person is held up and examined in the light from the flames of another burning police car.

Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible…until you let the sun in.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar

[Tune in tomorrow for part 2 of 2: [a humble list of resources and American black perspectives]

the semi-urban fox

I’ve never been good at humor; I’m really good at anxiety and staring at walls in brief bouts of depressive catatonia. Getting really good at those things these days.

I’m not good at producing humor. I try, but I’m no good at it. I know it when I hear it and usually when I read it. But I can’t tell jokes very well, and I can’t write funny stuff (just look at my FB posts recently), and I am only beginning to experiment with dark satire (see Stratovirus-19 installments elsewhere on this blog). It’s all that much harder these days to just be plain funny without it all wrapped up in blue-state this and red-state that…Conan O’Brien does it by being humble, self-effacing, and recently/usually steering clear of politics (there’s no shortage of comedians doing politics these days, and that’s important in its own right). This is the time we need humor, as serious and goddamned deadly as these times are.

See? There I go again.

But if I die before I learn to tell a joke and comedy can’t bring people together, maybe there’s another way. What follows is not poetry (I used to be okay at that, but not anymore), but it’s me.

Carbon is not a man, nor salt nor water nor calcium. He is all these, but he is much more, much more; and the land is so much more than its analysis.

–John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath (p. 158)

Got up today long before my snoozing and snoring co-quarantining beings. I crept down to the backyard and communed with the chilly air, the sunrise, and the chirping of thousands of birds. I tried to hear my beloved cardinals and their distinct calls, but I gave up and leaned back, the light growing a paler orange.

I didn’t want to but I knew I had to go on a run. I rousted the pooch and headed down to the trail along the banks of the Des Moines River heading southeast. A couple people lurked in the brush, cast us looks suspicious or otherwise, and we ran on. About a mile in, two doe crossed the path from their drinking spot in the river about 50 yards ahead and bounded into the brush. I spotted them casually watching us as we passed.

Another doe leaped across the path into the brush a bit later and Frank alerted to it. I think back to a couple lifetimes ago (Fall 2016) when four doe passed by the softball field where we were playing early morning fetch in DeKalb, IL. Frank alerted and ran toward them; fortunately, he saw the size difference and didn’t feel the need to pursue them through the opening in the fence. He would have been trampled, if not humiliated by his inability to get the deer to play fetch with him. He could probably catch a squirrel, but he wouldn’t know what to do if he did. Besides, he’d have to drop his tennis ball to really catch the critters, those taunting ubiquitous tree rodents.

We turned around and ran back the way we came, and I scanned the underbrush near the river, looking for the beaver Nic said she saw the other day; or I was looking for the white feral cat that I once saw skulking on a hunt as I ran by; when I passed by ten minutes later, the savvy bastard had a field mouse freshly killed in its mouth. But on this morning’s run, no such drama. No usual redtail hawks gliding overhead. No owls calling to each other from their roosts after a long night of hunting, as if to say, “It was a good night. Whoooo shall we kill tonight? Sleep well, neighbor.”

I wonder how the naïve young rabbits—those cute little guys Nic and I call Jenkins, Jimmy Carrots, and Baby Carrots as if they were the same ones we named all those years ago in DeKalb—I wonder how they or their mothers ever sleep, what with the deadly graceful daytime hawk drafting before diving and the big-eyed nighttime assassin swooping.

“[Dr. David] Drake hopes the urban canid project can encourage city dwellers to engage with the natural environments around them and inform decision-making among wildlife managers. With a rapidly urbanizing global society and increasing pressure on wild places, it behooves humans to better understand the animals that share their spaces…”

–Will Cushman (2019), “Lives of the Urban Coyotes and Foxes

And I wonder if I’ll ever see a wild fox again like the one I saw in DeKalb while oblivious Frank chased his tennis ball across the infield. Red coat ablaze in the early autumn sunrise, trotting confidently from behind the car across the parking lot and into a stand of trees, a fox is the semi-urban Midwest morning.

fox in a parking lot

Photo courtesy of the UW-Madison Urban Canid Project.