The Dreams of Teddy Schreck Chosen by NABE as the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winner

The National Association of Book Entrepreneurs chose my novel, The Dreams of Teddy Schreck, as the winner in the “Novel” category of the Pinnacle Book Achievement Award Winners for Fall 2013. A full list of the winners can be found by clicking on the seal to the right.NewPinnacleAward3D2

The Dreams of Teddy Schreck, my fifth work of fiction and the third to use the Laurel Woods neighborhood of Iske Park as a setting, focuses on a retired salesman, who obsesses about retaining his mental acuity. One website advises writing a long-hand journal to keep the brain elastic and active. The possible subject of this journal eludes Teddy until one night, when he dreams of cataloging his dreams. The following day he makes his first of many entries in his dream journal. He mentions the project to his neighbor, Bill, a retired historian, who suggests expanding the scope to include Teddy’s aspirations from his early life. Teddy agrees.
TheDreamsofTeddySchreck thumbnail
Bill and his wife, Margaret, have been life-long friends of the Schrecks. Margaret anonymously authors an atheist blog; her posts attract the anger of a religious zealot, who in his threatening comments on the blog indicates he not only knows Margaret’s identity, but where she lives. Teddy interjects himself into the conflict, for a variety of aspirational reasons, including an unfulfilled desire to be a hero to someone. His wife and daughters caution him, but he ignores their advice, entangles himself in the back-and-forth between Margaret and “The Lord’s Sword,” as the dangerous zealot labels himself. Events unfold with tragic consequences for both families.

One website advises writing a long-hand journal to keep the brain elastic and active. The possible subject of this journal eludes Teddy until one night, when he dreams of cataloging his dreams. The following day he makes his first of many entries in his dream journal. He mentions the project to his neighbor, Bill, a retired historian, who suggests expanding the scope to include Teddy’s aspirations from his early life. Teddy agrees.

Bill and his wife, Margaret, have been life-long friends of the Schrecks. Margaret anonymously authors an atheist blog, which attracts the anger of a religious zealot, who in his threatening comments on the blog indicates he not only knows Margaret’s identity, but where she lives. Teddy interjects himself onto the conflict, for a variety of aspirational reasons. His wife and daughters caution him, but he ignores their advice. Events unfold with tragic consequences for both families.

I’ll admit to a shred of pride in the award, and hope it might spur a few of you to download or buy the book and let me know what you think of it.

Thanks.

The Yin Yang, Right Foot-Left Foot, Two Sides of a Coin

Tags

,

In an online discussion about the relationship between writing and reading, I used the phrases in the title of this post to describe how those two go together…for me, at least.

Then I started to ponder the writing process itself. I’m lazy by nature, so writing…at least the start of it each day…takes a little effort on my part. A bit of pump priming. Hemingway, it’s said, began each day rereading everything he’d written so far on the current manuscript. That seems excessive, so sometimes I read the chapter I’m writing before starting each day’s work. Hemingway never had to contend with the temptations of the Internet…of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Goodreads, Library Thing, and all things Google. When those diversions are set aside, I finally stare at the blank screen and the work begins.

Getting the words out, even if they’re imperfect, is important for this one, over-arching reason: they lead to more words. A writer’s brain is not all that dissimilar to anyone else’s brain, I suppose, except that we use 003connections that occur and create stories from them. Everyone has experienced what I’m talking about. You see a person on the street. They don’t remind you of anyone, except they’re wearing a scarf just like the one you saw in a shop window a few days ago, when you were with your uncle, who stopped in front of a comic book store and talked about how he loved comic books as a kid, that The Flash was his favorite super hero, and that reminds you of a cartoon series you loved as a kid, parking yourself in front of the TV every Saturday morning with a bowl of Count Chocula, your favorite flavor, and also the favorite flavor of that girl you dated in college, the art student, who always dressed in black, although she didn’t go totally goth, but strove to be serious all the time, because life should be taken seriously, and you wonder if she ever cheered up, if she graduated, maybe started teaching art when she discovered that living as a practicing artist does mean living in poverty, and after all, why should she be denied life’s comforts, when she could live in a comfy suburb with a rich husband, even if he does manage a hedge fund, is just one level below the worst of the Wall Street crooks, who manipulate the economy and oppress the middle class, of which your father was a shining example, and with whom you now maintain a simmering feud because of your diverse political beliefs. But that person you see on the street is not your father, he’s older, far older, more frail, closer to the end of his life, and maybe because life is so fleeting, you should call your father and let him know that despite your differences, you love him and will always be grateful for the life he gave you.

That’s how the reading-writing duality parallels my process. One word or phrase swings me toward another. Like breadcrumbs on a forest path, I keep moving forward, picking them up and adding them to my basket, only to spy another one farther down the trail. They lead to such wonderful places, sometimes by plan, but often inadvertently, and those unplanned destinations can be magical, causing me to lean back in my chair and fold my arms over my chest in triumph that I achieved more than I had hoped. Just as reading others’ work can often provide insight, clues to what I’m writing, my own words as they flow can chart a course toward those that should follow. Writing challenges me, makes me grimace, groan and grit my teeth, but also makes me smile, sometimes even laugh out loud. The rewards, even for someone as lazy as I can be, more than make it worthwhile.

Congratulations to all my writing colleagues for making that effort each time you sit down at a keyboard or pick up a pen or pencil, for all the rewards you share with us.

Madonna – New Novel Published

I know what some of you might be thinking: “Wait a minute. Didn’t you just publish a new novel last month?” Good memory – I did…The Dreams of Teddy Schreck.

I suppose before you conclude that I am more prolific than a literary bunny, I should explain. Madonna is a novel I began in 1985 and for reasons I cannot recall, abandoned that same year. After rereading the first three chapters, I dove back into it…editing, rewriting…pretty much a complete overhaul. I asked my wife to read chapters one through three to gauge if the rewrite was worth pursuing. She urged me to continue, saying the characters captivated her and she wanted to know what happened next. So I continued to rewrite Madonna, until I reached a point where I was unsure where to go with it. It was 1985 all over again!

Not content to remain stalled in a non-writing period, I set Madonna aside and began drafting The Dreams of Teddy Schreck, which I published last month, and then turned my attention back to Madonna. It only remained to finish one chapter and the book was completed.

madonna cover September 2012 smallIn this novel, Mary Cottle struggles day-to-day as a widow and the single mother of a 43-year-old son with special needs. She wanders the streets of her town, scavenging abandoned “treasures” that she then sells to an antiques dealer and friend, Karl. From this meager income, she provides a bare-bones life for her son, Jimmy. He is a simple man, but one day he confronts his mother with the revelation that he has a girlfriend…a woman who works nights with him cleaning offices. Dread overcomes Mary. She has feared this day for years and despite all the time she has had to prepare for it, when considering what to do about her son’s announcement, she flounders. At times Jimmy behaves no better than a child; Mary frets about how to dissuade him from this entanglement as she would in denying him a shiny toy. But her son surprises her….and assists Mary in surprising herself. Mary wistfully considers how her deceased husband would manage their son’s desires. Her friendship with Karl blossoms beyond what she ever could have anticipated. She ritually visits the neighborhood tavern, spars with the bartender, sips Scotch for breakfast and predicts his fortune while gazing at a small crystal ball. And then there is the girl…Connie…bent on complicating her life. Mary abandons caution and reacts to Jimmy’s news recklessly, oblivious to the consequences. Her decisions snowball, appropriately she feels, as a winter storm assaults the town in drifts and frigid temperatures. Unexpected events unfold and Mary’s reticence to allow Jimmy the things he has always coveted begins to melt. She spies a light at the end of her tunnel and charges headlong toward it. Never having believed she deserved a happy ending to her life, Mary casts aside her fears and lunges toward one.

That’s the end of old manuscripts…all future novels will be crafted from scratch.
I hope you enjoy reading both Madonna and The Dreams of Teddy Schreck.

A Rant About Genres…Specifically “Women’s Fiction” or “Chick-Lit”

Yes, this will be a rant.

From Wikipedia: Women’s fiction is an umbrella term for books that are marketed to female readers, and includes many mainstream novels, romantic fiction, “chick lit,”and other sub genres. It is distinct from Women’s writing, which refers to literature written by (rather than promoted to) women. There exists no comparable label in English for works of fiction that are marketed to males.

I added the emphasis to that last sentence. There’s no “Macho-Lit,” “Bulked-Up-On-Steroids-Lit.” “Big-Dick-Pissing-Contest-Lit.” But there is a “Chick-Lit” genre.

The Romance Writers of America organization defines women’s fiction as, “a commercial novel about a woman on the brink of life change and personal growth. Her journey details emotional reflection and action that transforms her and her relationships with others, and includes a hopeful/upbeat ending with regard to her romantic relationship.”[1]

Change…personal growth? Somehow the sole domain of women? Or relegated to women as their only domain? It’s oppression in the literary world, as opposed to the world at large. Change and personal growth, the inner workings of relationships, emotions and awareness…these are the girders of a great story. Two points: ignoring their prevalence in non-women’s fiction is simply hypocritical, and making them the domain solely of women is asinine. The most interesting aspects of fiction are the characters…how they interact with one another and their environments. They drive a story.

I’m not suggesting we eliminate “Romance” as a genre (although I have gone on record as disliking genres). It is a helpful tool for readers who seek that kind of story. But all “Chick-Lit” is not about romance. If the gender of the authors of many “Chick-Lit” books remained unknown, the book would never be categorized as it does. Let’s be plain about it: the use of “Chick-Lit” as a genre is prejudicial. It implies that what is either created by, or marketed to, women, must be second-rate writing. Frankly, that is simply unacceptable.

Shame on all of us who perpetuate this practice! Speak out! Defy the roles assigned to us!

If you agree with me, please repost this blog. Thank you.

The Dreams of Teddy Schreck – A New Novel

The Dreams of Teddy Schreck is my fifth work of fiction.

It is now available at Amazon…click on the image to the right and you will be linked to the book’s Amazon page.

TheDreamsofTeddySchreck thumbnailThis novel focuses on a retired salesman, who obsesses about retaining his mental acuity. Dreading the loss of memories of the people, events and milestones of his life, he augments his specialized diet with herbal supplements and specific vitamins designed to postpone, perhaps even eliminate, the chance of developing dementia. He indulges in solving puzzles and constantly searches the web for brain teasers and exercises to keep his mind sharp.

One website advises writing a long-hand journal to keep the brain elastic and active. The possible subject of this journal eludes Teddy until one night, when he dreams of cataloging his dreams. The following day he makes his first of many entries in his dream journal. He mentions the project to his neighbor, Bill, a retired historian, who suggests expanding the scope to include Teddy’s aspirations from his early life. Teddy agrees.

Bill and his wife, Margaret, have been life-long friends of the Schrecks. Margaret anonymously authors an atheist blog, which attracts the anger of a religious zealot, who in his threatening comments on the blog indicates he not only knows Margaret’s identity, but where she lives. Teddy interjects himself into the conflict, for a variety of aspirational reasons, but most urgently because he understands through his journaling that his most grating unfulfilled aspiration is to be a hero. His wife and daughters caution him, but he ignores their advice. Events unfold with tragic consequences for both families.

I hope you enjoy the book.

New Novel Will Be Published This Week

Later this week, my newest work of fiction will be published.

The Dreams of Teddy Schreck, my fifth work of fiction and the third to use the Laurel Woods neighborhood of Iske Park as a setting, focuses on a retired salesman, who obsesses about retaining his mental acuity. Dreading the loss of memories of the people, events and milestones of his life, he augments his specialized diet with herbal supplements and specific vitamins designed to postpone, perhaps even eliminate, the chance of developing dementia. He indulges in solving puzzles and constantly searches the web for brain teasers and exercises to keep his mind sharp.

TheDreamsofTeddySchreck thumbnailOne website advises writing a long-hand journal to keep the brain elastic and active. The possible subject of this journal eludes Teddy until one night, when he dreams of cataloging his dreams. The following day he makes his first of many entries in his dream journal. He mentions the project to his neighbor, Bill, a retired historian, who suggests expanding the scope to include Teddy’s aspirations from his early life. Teddy agrees.

Bill and his wife, Margaret, have been life-long friends of the Schrecks. Margaret anonymously authors an atheist blog, which attracts the anger of a religious zealot, who in his threatening comments on the blog indicates he not only knows Margaret’s identity, but where she lives. Teddy interjects himself onto the conflict, for a variety of aspirational reasons. His wife and daughters caution him, but he ignores their advice. Events unfold with tragic consequences for both families.

I’ll the post novel’s availability in a few days!

Making an Author’s Day

Tags

I’m not certain why I didn’t adopt this habit earlier in my reading career (yes, that’s how I think of it these days…reading is career). There are hundreds of books I’ve read which enthralled me, impressed me, brought me laughter and tears, and left me wanting more. An almost universal impulse was to sit down with the author and thank her or him for the effort poured into their work. For very practical reasons in the not-too-distant past, that would have involved writing a letter, sending it to the publisher, and hoping that it made its way into the author’s grateful hands. On a very rare occasion, I did just that, but only rarely. Thank you World Wide Web!

Accomplishing that small note of praise these days requires nothing but an Internet connection and a few moments. In only the past few months I have reached out to authors whose work I admired and sent them brief notes, thanking them for the creativity of their work and praising their talent. The reaction has been more heartwarming than I might have imagined. I’m a writer and I know the solitude of the craft. Sometimes the only other human to whom I speak during a day (I admit…I talk to myself) is my wife, and while those conversations are always interesting and challenging (yes…that is blatant CYA), contact with others can be rewarding and inspiring. A small sampling of the authors I’ve contacted recently illustrates my point. Catherine Ryan Hyde, Cynthia Hamilton, Emme Rollins and Richard Mason. I read novels they had written and was so moved by the work that I found them on Facebook, or contacted them through their websites. I was prepared for a delayed thank you, a short note of appreciation. But each responded more warmly than I would have anticipated, citing the gratitude that someone would have taken the time to provide feedback, and offering their thanks for my comments.

In each case, their fiction stimulated me, touched me emotionally and influenced me…they are each talented and creative writers whom I have grown to respect. That respect and admiration are enhanced by the graciousness with which they replied to me, letting me see how much it meant to them to receive reader feedback. Reviews, as all writers understand, are important to increasing readership and hence potential sales, but the correspondence between reader and writer takes that effort a step further. Writers appreciate reader contact. It makes their day, boosts their morale and makes the lonely effort of sitting at a keyboard and bleeding words onto the “page” worth it. I’ve been moved by the responses I’ve received to even the briefest of notes to an author whose fiction I have appreciated. I encourage you to do the same.

The next time you finish a book you enjoyed, that affected you, provided you with insight, impressed you…take ten minutes to find that author’s contact information and send an e-mail, a Facebook message. Their gratitude will make your day, much as your appreciation made theirs.

Hey, it’s a win-win for everyone. It’s why we (and they) write, and it’s why you read.

Short Story Published in Chicago Literati

My short story, “Teddy Schreck’s Dreams,” has been published in Chicago Literati (click the image to the left to access the story) a blog dedicated to Chicago’s literary community and expertly edited by Abby Schaeffer. The story is an excerpt adapted from the first chapter of my most recent novel, The Dreams of Teddy Schreck, which will be published in early August.

It is an honor to have the work appear in “Chicago Literati.”

 

New Novel Draft Completed

The sense of accomplishment in completing the draft of a new novel ranks among the best sensations…definitely in the top ten.

ImageThe idea for The Dreams of Teddy Schreck grew out of a fascination with the explosion of blogs, and the topics they address. The novel’s namesake lives across a park from a woman who blogs about atheism, about how religion harms people…in her belief. She begins to receive threats beyond the biting comments on her blog which lead Teddy Schreck to fear for her safety. Teddy is a retired salesman, the father of two daughters, who has lived a sedate, safe life. The urge to become the hero in his friend’s dilemma proves too powerful to resist and what had been contained as a cyber-battle on the blog leaks into the real world.

In my first novel, A Life Without Grace, the main character lived in a seemingly idyllic neighborhood, Iske Park. The houses ringed the park in a U-shaped, secluded enclave. I drew inspiration for the setting from my own neighborhood. In a later work, Harmony House, the park persists as a location, but the focus on people shifted to another park resident. Without intending such, I have written a trilogy of novels which use Iske Park and its residents as a the setting and characters.

In A Life Without Grace, the character of Grayson Eilers stubbornly ignored the tethers of family, and by the end of the book, I had grown less and less fond of him. In Harmony House, I cast the protagonist, Dan Boyle, in a purposefully unflattering light. He also strove to untether himself not only from family, but from friendships and other relationship. I didn’t, and still don’t, like him very much either.

I like the character of Teddy Schreck quite a bit. His intentions are noble. He has a good heart even though he ignores his limitations. Of course, you know what they say about good intentions…

So now begins the editing period. Typos, inconsistencies, omissions, additions…all addressed with dispassion. Often tougher than writing. Look for the publication next month.

And also look for the publication of an excerpt of the first chapter, rewritten as a short story, “Teddy Schreck’s Dreams,” soon to be published in Chicago Literati, an amazing blog by Abby Sheaffer at http://www.chicagonow.com/chicago-literati.