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Explaining Queries to a Muggle

This summer, I announced to Facebook that I'm a writer. It was terrifying in an absurd way that should be reserved solely for spiders and presidential elections. The reasons for this fear were too many for one blog post, but I did address one of the causes in that Facebook post: querying. 

The problem with querying... ha. The problem, like there's only one. Laugh. Laugh. Laugh. Cryyyyyyyyy. Well the biggest problem with querying, when it comes to explaining it to non-writing folk, is trying to express how miserable an experience it is. In my original post, I came up with a comparison that seemed to resonate with my writing fiends, so now I share it with all of you:

Querying is difficult to explain to someone who doesn't write, but I'll do my best. Imagine you built a house. You built this house all by yourself so it took a really long time - six months, a year, two years, maybe a decade. But now it's done and it is beautiful. The hallways are gorgeous with wainscoting on the walls, crown molding on the ceiling, and stunning, multi-genus wood floors that tie together every room perfectly. You didn't even know mult-genus was a real word, let alone a type of floor, but you did weeks of research on this little detail that only a few people will notice, but whatever, it's perfect. In the dining room, there is a wet bar that you spent an entire month debating which granite to use, and in the living room there is a built-in bench that took another month designing so that the sun would light it up throughout the day. The kitchen would make any chef drool, and the garage could make your average mechanic shed tears of joy. The bathrooms aren't anything super special, but they work, and after someone looks at the study, they won't even remember the bathrooms. You spent a total of three months picking out the perfect wood, measuring the precise spacing, and routing out all the intricate details of the trim for the built-in book cases and desk.

It's a work of art - the entire thing. And now it's done and ready to sell. You have two options: sell yourself, or call a real estate agent. Selling yourself could be great, but it's a lot of work and a lot less guarantee of success than if you had an agent, so you decide to get an agent. However, in this world, there are only a few hundred agents in the entire United States, so before they take you and your house on as a client, you have to convince them that your house will be sold. And the only way you can convince them of this is by writing a one page letter to them describing the functional aspects of the house, a couple highlights of the house, any qualifications you have to build a house, and then something personal directly to the agent, all in less than 250 words. You should also, of course, send them a picture of the house, but not actually of the house, just the front door - maybe the front door and the foyer, but definitely no further than that.

It could take up to six months for an agent to respond to your letter, so you want to make sure that the first group of letters are to people you really think will like your house. So you research the agent's likes and dislikes, what they've sold in the past, what they say they want to sell in the future. If you built a colonial and the agent only sells bungalows, then you are wasting your time writing to that agent, and when you're looking at months for a turn around, you don't want to waste any time.

So now you've spent a month or two researching agents, and writing, and rewriting, the letters, and you are ready to go to the post office and send them out - but wait. This agent accepts electronic-only submissions, and this other agent wants you to include a summary of your entire house, including the back patio and the plumbing, all in another separate page attached to the email, and then this other agent wants the same thing, except not as an attachment, but instead, pasted into the body of the email. And another agent, the agent you thought was best for your story - they are no longer accepting new clients for at least three months. So you take some more time to research the submission requirements, and finally, a few months after you finished the house, you send out the letters to agents.

Now you wait. The first agent responds back in a matter of minutes asking for pictures of the entire house. You're thrilled. You spent all this time on the house, time you should've spent sleeping, or eating, or playing with your kids since your time is already limited by work and ailments, but now an agent, someone who can make all the dreams you have for your house come true, wants to see your work. With shaky fingers, you click send and then do a victory dance. While in the middle of the Stanky Leg or Superman or Electric Slide, another email comes back from another agent, an agent you liked even more than the agent who already asked for the pictures. So with your confidence built up, you click on the email, already thinking of the reply message you'll type when you send out the pictures. The email reads: "Dear Builder, Thank you for thinking of me, but after careful review, we've decided your house is not right for us. Good luck with all your future building."

You are crushed. How could they make that sort of decision based just on the front door? Even if they don't like the color of the front door, they'd certainly love the study, and you could always paint the door. You want an explanation, but know you won't get one. So you try to let it go and continue to wait. More requests for photos come in, but twice as many rejections follow. Over the months, it becomes painful every time you hear the ding of a new email coming in. You know what it's going to say, and you don't want to read it. Six months later, everyone except the first agent who asked for your pictures has said no. You write the one agent left, saying you redid the downstairs bathroom and took some new pictures and wondered if they wanted to see the changes. They don't answer. Ever.

Three months more go by and you've sent out more letters and got more rejections, and now, you have to face facts. No one wants this house. But you have more land and more supplies and an idea for a ranch so you get back to building. And a year later, you start to research agents again.

That is querying. It is horrible. I built four houses before I was able to land an agent, and I know some who built even more and have yet to find their match. It's different for everyone, but it's very rarely some joyful experience where someone sends out one letter and a few months later they're an agented millionaire with a seven book deal. So if you don't write, but know someone who does, and they tell you they're querying, just give them a hug. 

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#KeepYAKind and #OwnVoices

Rant time

#KeepYAKind. Yeah. Exactly. I agree. We should 100% keep the YA and all other book worlds kind. Except the satanic one. I guess. Unless they want to be kind. I mean, it's really their choice, but it seems kind of counter productive. And then again, how could you really have an online community wheee everyone is an asshole, satanic shit aside? Like, I mean, you really couldn't even go in your group and say, “What’s up, goat fuckers?” Because goat fornication seems like it could be a good thing in satanism and even if it's not cool, you're still saying what's up which is still a form of… sorry. Wrong rant. 

This ones about this hashtag about keeping YA kind. At first, I saw it and was like, “fuck yeah, let's keep it kind as a hell,” but like figurative, because once again, I don’t know what kind means in a satanic environment. But then I clicked on it and was like, oh, fuck no.

The reason for the about face is because a bunch of people are using the hashtag as a way to shut people down. If they were using the hashtag to police shitty behavior and shut that down, fine – good actually. But that's not what's happening. Some people are using the hashtag as a camouflage to disguise racism and sexism. Plain and simple. It might not be the intention some people, but honestly, when the effects are clearly adverse to marginalized people, who gives a damn what the intentions were?

Whenever I click on one of these hashtags, it always leads back to some of the same animal-avatared twitter accounts that are constantly blowing up the #OwnVoices tag with their nonsense. That nonsense can be summed up into two arguments, which are actually both true, which makes the cats’ and dogs’ use of them all the more infuriating.

Argument/truth 1: anyone should be allowed to write whatever they want about whoever they want whenever they want. True. 100% agree. But, and it's a big one, that doesn't mean anyone has to buy it. And that also doesn't mean that the people you offend, have to stay silent about it. If you write some bullshit that does harm to a community, the kind thing for people to do – what is kind to the community that you've damaged – is to call you out on being an asshole. Just like anyone is free to write whatever they want on in a book, people are also free to write whatever they want in a review of that book.

Argument/truth 2: it should only be about the writing, not who’s writing it. YES! That is literally what brought about the #ownvoices movement. It was the fact – FACT – that marginalized authors are marginalized. Because of the life they were born into, whether it is their sex, gender, race, culture, religion, etc. that is different from the white, cis/het, Christian American standard that has been created over centuries in the book industry, something about who they are has kept them from being published and therefore represented in books. All marginalized authors want is to be judged on their writing.

Own Voices is about better writing. Think about it. Who is going to tell the story of a Mexican immigrant better, someone who made the journey themselves or lived through their parents’ struggle with immigration, or someone who has heard politicians yell about it and has no other experience? Who is going to be able to capture all the intricacies and beautiful aspects of Islamic religions, someone who was raised in the tradition and faith, or someone whose only knowledge comes from decades of news outlets saying all Muslims are terrorists? A good writer who has lived an experience is going to be able to write their story better than a good writer who hasn't.

And I'm pretty sure that's all anyone is asking for. I haven't seen or heard of anyone saying that all minorities who write books about minorities must be traditionally published in place of white authors writing about white things. If you believe that's what's going on, take off your tinfoil, make-America-great-again hat, and get a grip on reality.

Another thing absolutely no one is saying: if you are a white, cishet, Christian male, all of your characters should only be white, cishet, Christian, males. No! No, no, no, no, noooooo! The issue isn't about restricting people on what type of characters they can include in their work. Quite the contrary. The world is not filled with your clones, so your book shouldn't be either. Include characters of other ethnicities, races, cultures, just do so in a responsible way. And if your main character is an Indonesian-American Army officer, and the story is about him dealing with cultural issues while treating his PTSD, but you’re a white guy who does computer programming as a day job, do you really think you're the right person to write that book?

Okay. So how can you #KeepYAKind ?

Well, this has taken up a good chunk of my NaNo time, so I'm just going to steal what smarter people than me have said on the issue:

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And my favorite of all: 

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I Did Something Crazy

Today I did something that was probably a bad idea.

Before I tell you what it is, the context should be explained because it's important and this would be a really short post if I didn't.

As many know, I got hurt bad a while back and am currently in the process of being retired because of it. What most don't know are the specifics. I fractured my skull badly in two spots, the back base and the part your brain actually sits on. I may have also had other small fractures in other places, but they aren't important. The ones that mattered were the ones that involved my brain.

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I had heard the term Traumatic Brain Injury before, but I never really knew what it entailed. It is a pretty encompassing term, leaving a wide range of injuries it could include. For me it meant multiple subdural and subarachnoid hemorrhages. In layman’s terms, my brain was bleeding so bad, the blood began to seep through all the cracks and crevices and infiltrate the inner part of my brain. In really layman terms, my brain got fucked up.

Prognosis for this kind of injury is generally not great, but as should be apparent by my writing this post, I kicked TBI’s ass. It got its fair share of licks in, got a headache for the rest of my life, but whatevs. I won and I walked away from it in okay shape. And by walked away, I mean literally walked away. Like on my feet – something doctors said wasn't likely. Sure I used a cane for a year, but I only used it that long cause it had a freaking sword inside. Yeah, you'd use a cane if it had a sword inside, too. Admit it.

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So I thought I was all good, I mean, I survived. The end. Right? Apparently Will Smith thinks differently. And apparently my employer thinks Will Smith is an actual doctor and does not just play one on TV. Shortly after the movie Concussion came out, my employer decided having someone with my history of concussions on the payroll was too much of a liability. So retirement papers submitted and doctors were visited.

Let's get a few things straight before I go on: First, yes I do have brain damage, and you know what? So do you. Ever get a headache ‘cause you were too dehydrated? Needed yourself some Gatorade? Well that headache was caused by your brain screaming in agony as it was damaged. What about alcohol? You enjoy a couple pops after a long day at work, maybe a few more on the weekends, maybe a few more than that? Brain damage. Oh and wait, did you ever wake up from a night when you had imbibed perhaps a little too much and felt super dehydrated? Double brain damage.

The point is that no one has an undamaged brain. No one. As such, to call someone brain damaged is unintelligent. So if you partake in that type of stupidity, it leads me to believe your level of brain damage might be so bad that it has affected your IQ. Go eat some goji berries, drink some fish oil, read a book, and fix that shit.

Second, books, movies, comics – they all suck. Okay, that’s obviously not true. I love all of those things and they’ve made my life better – measurably better. So it’s not fiction that sucks, it's people. People suck. Well, no, not all of them. The only thing I love more than fiction is my family. And I assume there are other people like my family so that can't be it either. Okay, I think I know what it is. People who intake fiction and take it as fact – those people suck.

If you read a book or watch a movie and it has a character that is “brain damaged” or has “PTSD” or is “something you are not” and you believe that character represents all, or really any, people with the characteristic the author intended to emphasize, then you not only suck, but you are also an idiot. I know no one reading this blog is one of those sucky idiots, but just incase you are, but don't know it, do me a favor and next time you are reading something that negatively describes any class of people, after, try to find something to read that shows that class in a positive light. Preferably written by someone from that class, because they are the only people who can get it right. 

Third… is… Hmmmm. I don't remember. Oh yeah that’s it, I have some memory issues because of my injuries. So am I going to walk into a grocery store in my underwear looking for all the Snickers ice cream bars while making rude comments to children in strollers? Maybe. But not because of my injuries. My injuries mean that if my brain was capable of doing 200mph before the injuries, it now can only do 198mph. Not as great, but I'm still quicker than any of the sucky idiots who call people brain damaged.

So what’s the point and what was my probably bad choice? Well one of the doctors I saw when my work decided to retire me was a neurologist who gave me some advice that I initially brushed off as impossible. She said that the best way for me to prevent the cognitive problems that are sometimes associated with my injuries is to keep my brain active. And since my brain is already at 198mph, simply doing puzzles and whatnot wasn't going to do the trick. Yeah, blogging and writing novels might help, but still not enough. School was her answer.

I brushed this off as impossible because I already have a degree. Three in fact and I didn't think I would be able to financially swing another round of education. But then I realized that this is my best bet at warding off future problems that could alter the way I interact with my children.

So I did it.

I signed back up for school.

I'm nervous. Because of the retirement process, I won't be able to start until Spring, so now I am just planning. This is a big gamble. I am spending a lot of money in hopes that it betters my situation, not just in terms of employment as everyone who goes to college hopes, but in terms of health. And whether that will work is completely unknown. I'm my own Guinea pig here and I'm hoping it works out well.

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And it might not. I might just be wasting a lot of money and time, both of which I could be spending on/with my family. But I can't just sit back and do nothing. I can't. It's not who I am. So I'm trying and that's all there is to it. Feel free to tell me I'm a sucky, stupid idiot, but I still have to do something.

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My Pitch Slam Entry

This 250 was in a contest earlier this year (Query Kombat) where it was ripped to shreds by dozens and dozens of comments by judges and other competitors. It was brutal. But a few of the comments clicked with me and led to edits which made my manuscript better. This manuscript also got me my agent. So, as rough as it is to take those comments, sometimes they are just what you need. 

Without further ado, here it is: 

 Name: Jim O'Donnell

Genre: YA Contemporary Fantasy

Title: Gray Hole

Word Count: 66,000

Special Question: Grayson is a serial killer with a heart of gold. So Jar Jar Binks?

35 Word Pitch:

By Saturday, six high school seniors will be dead. Again. And again they'll begin the week on Tuesday, destined to relive the week before prom until they convince their classmate, Grayson, to stop killing them.

First 250 Words:

TUESDAY 7:59 A.M.

You tell yourself today will be different. Maybe it will. The lockers are the same sick, pale blue as yesterday, the linoleum floors still shine with same pungent cleaners that have been disintegrating nose hairs and SEAL-Team-Sixing brain cells for all four years you’ve spent in this school. And your classmates – if they’ve changed anything other than the color of their hair, it’d be tantamount to Chris Hemsworth intentionally eating a carb.

But still.

That pale blue used to be your favorite color before your wardrobe and your attitude took an about-face to the dark side. The chemical glint and nauseating smell from the floor is fading with each sneaker’s squeaking step. And those people – the juniors, sophomores, freshman, even your classmates – they all could –

Your head snaps against a locker so hard it’s unclear whether the high pitched hum ringing in your ears is a sudden bout of tinnitus or if the blue painted metal is actually screaming back at you. You try to pull away and see if the locker’s ugly blue was repainted red, but the hand that put you there doubles the pressure from its sweaty palms, digging the blunted and jagged ends of chewed away nails into the back of your head and your left cheek.

You stop struggling before you start. Today will be no different. Embarrassment is the baseline of high school, and pain is just a reminder you haven’t left yet.

Yet.

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How I Got My Agent

HOW I GOT MY AGENT

Here's an interesting thing: I have an agent!

So how did this come about? Funny story.

First, I wrote a manuscript.

Then, days after finishing, I submitted it to a contest (Query Kombat).

From the contest, I got 11 requests.

Soon after, I had an offer, then another… fast forward three months from when I finished the manuscript and I’ve signed with an agent. Yay!


Easy, right?


Sure, this manuscript brought in an agent pretty quickly, but it's the fourth manuscript I’ve written and the third I've tried to query. Between the other three manuscripts, I sent out more than 100 queries, which means I've received more than 100 rejections in one form or another.

And those rejections certainly took their toll, but before I can explain really how much of a toll and why, I need to start at the beginning of my writing journey.

Since seventh grade, I've been writing with the goal of being a published author, but I never really got serious about it until 2007. It was then that, due to a lot of bad decisions, I wound up in law school. And I hated it. Law school is the most boring thing I've ever done. But I was convinced it was what i was "supposed to do" so I stuck with it. Plus, there was another benefit they don't put in their recruitment propaganda. Law school was so intolerably boring that I found endless amounts of time during my classes to write the books I always planned on. Before the first year was done, I had three works in progress with 20,000+ words each. And halfway through the second year, I had almost completed a draft of my first ever book, a post-apocalyptic fantasy, and it was great. Then I died.

Actually, I didn’t die all the way, but pretty damn close. I had my skull broken in a bunch of places, had a serious brain injury, and was generally very cranky. For the next year and a half, I was in and out of doctors offices and hospitals, and my writing career was put on a probably permanent hold. After a while, I started to feel a little better, but life was so crazy with family and work, I couldn’t even think of taking away time to write. It would be irresponsible. I was going to wait for retirement. Then I died again.

Again, not really – this is not a paranormal blog post. I was just injured again, and not only did I not actually die this time, it wasn't even close to as bad as the first time. But it did have a more profound effect. I was running through some back yards (even longer story than this), when I slipped on ice and was knocked out. The doctors warned me from the last time if I ever hit my head hard enough to be knocked out again, I wouldn't wake up. So when I did wake up, I figured it was only temporary, and I better do what was important. At the time, I thought temporary meant only a couple minutes, so still on my back, I talked to my wife on the phone and told her I love her and the kids and I'd talk to them later. When I went to the hospital and they informed me I wouldn't be dying just then, I was relieved, but I still looked at whatever time I had left as borrowed, and I decided then to stop postponing everything for a future that might not come.

I immediately started doing everything I planned on, beginning with picking back up my almost completed novel, which I actually started redrafting in my hospital room. While six years earlier a dystopian would've been great, in 2014, not so much. I queried the manuscript for nearly a year before hearing dystopian is dead enough times to finally give up on it. Giving up was the best thing I ever did because it led to writing my second manuscript, a contemporary YA that got me into Pitch Wars.

Pitch Wars was awesome. I had two amazing mentors, Kate Karyus Quinn and Mindy McGinnis, who I still talk to and seek advice from today, and I made the type and number of friends in the writing community I never would've had if it wasn't for that contest. Pitch Wars, or more accurately the community it provided, is the reason I kept writing when all I wanted to do was give up. And at times, I really, really wanted to give up.

Pitch Wars was great for the reasons above, but it didn't get me an agent. The rejections continued to flood my inbox and the onslaught of bad news couldn't have come at a more difficult time. Those injuries that almost killed me before were coming back with a vengeance. My symptoms were getting worse and my prognosis had become a lot more bleak, so much so that my employer decided I had become a liability and put me in for retirement.

Now, I was once again under the same weight of those feelings I had with the near death experiences before, except this time, instead of it catapulting me forward as it had in the last instance, all it did was knock me down. I was in the position of considering how much time I had left, and how I should be spending that time. Of course my family should come first, but if there was a second, should it really be something I had only received rejections from? I clearly could not be that great of a writer, so should I be wasting the limited time I had with something I'm no good at?

The problem was, even though I might've not been the best writer, I still loved it.

Plus, I had a bunch of WIPs going at the time. So with the support of my friends in the writing community, I decided to give it one last shot. It just so happened that I’d finished a new manuscript at the exact same time that Query Kombat started. The manuscript I chose to focus on was, by any rational assumption, a bad choice. It has an extremely controversial topic (school shootings) and probably the most polarizing, risky narration possible: second person.

I was certain it would not do well in the contest, but I figured there was no harm in trying. At least by entering, even if I didn't get in, I'd know where my query stood before sending it to agents. Then I got in and actually won some rounds, finishing as the YA champion. More importantly, I tied for first when it came to agent requests; 11 total!

The obnoxious beginning to this post gives the gist of what happened next, but to summarize, I'm currently represented by Vicki Selvaggio of Jennifer DeChiara Literary Agency!

This obviously is just one hurdle out of probably a million more to come, but for now I'm happy. I don't know what the future holds, but at least this gives enough validation for me to believe I haven't been wasting my time.

So the inspirational messages are a couple:

First and foremost, sometimes giving up is the only thing you can do. Sometimes you need to walk away, possibly throwing and breaking shit as you go.

But if you love writing, regardless of how good you may or may not be, or think you may or may not be, after you’ve picked up the broken glass, swept up the ashes of whatever you burnt, hid the bodies and the weapons, sit back down in front of that keyboard.


Second and last, since this post is already approaching 1500 words and eight GIFs, embrace your weird. The manuscript I got signed with, and that I hope everyone will someday get to read, is the story of a homicidal bullying victim who is completely unaware of the magical time loop he created by killing his classmates, told second person by the voice in his head.


Exactly.

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THE FABULOUS LIFE OF CLARK SECTION ONE

THE FABULOUS LIFE OF CLARK
TABLE OF CONTENTS
SECTION ONE

In order to make sense of this, start with the first chapter. That’s how people usually read stories. Or be a rebel and start wherever you want. It will make less sense than it already does, and generally be a waste of time, but hey, you’re a rebel.

CHAPTER 1: TELLING LUKE

CHAPTER 2: TELLING THE RENTALS




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THE FABULOUS LIFE OF CLARK 5

THE BUS DILEMMA, PART TWO

Even after a cruddy day, the company of a good friend can make it all right. The sun helps too. It’s a bright, beautiful, September day, and I couldn’t have asked for a better opportunity to take a long walk.
Luke hasn’t said a word since leaving, neither have I, and that’s okay. It’s just nice to be in each other’s company, under the sun. I don’t know what it is about the sun, I really love it.
I hear the grumbling of a large vehicle coming up behind us. I look back and see the bus. It’s moving so fast. Alex is driving and he’s coming right at us. He’s going to hit us.
“Move, Luke,” I yell as I jump out of the way. Luke doesn’t hear me. His headphones are so loud, he’s oblivious to the world. I have to save him. I leap.
I extend my arms and wrap them around my buddy. I pull him away so fast his head phones are left hanging where his head once was. They’re pulverized by the bus’s grill, I feel what might be a fly on my shoulder.
On the ground, our eyes connect – his wider than the world, mine moving to the yellow paint on my shoulder. I hear the earth shatter beneath what could only be the bus. I look back and watch the spiral of glass and metal fling from the twirling, yellow disaster.
“I have to help him,” I explain to Luke.
“What can you do? And how did you move that fast?”
No time to answer. My precious Earth is suddenly a few feet below me and I’m sprinting across the air. I stop beneath the mangled heap and grab an axle, slowing it as gently as possible. I ease the bus onto what’s left of its wheels then snap it like a twig to search for Alex. He’s unconscious, behind a seat towards the back. Half of the floorboard comes with the seat when I pick it up and toss it to the side. With Alex cradled in my arms, I bolt to the hospital a county away. I’m back.
 Luke is standing now, but not doing much else.
“You okay?” I ask.   
“Holy crap,” Luke yells. “You are an alien.”
“I told you.” I hand him what’s left of his headphones.
             “Yeah. I know. I thought it was a euphemism.”

GO TO PREVIOUS CHAPTER                         NEW CHAPTERS COMING SOON

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THE FABULOUS LIFE OF CLARK 4

SOME UNFORTUNATENESS, SOME CHIVALRY

The last bell rings and I throw on my red and blue backpack – I’ve always loved these colors – and head out the door. Luke should be around here somewhere. I wonder if he’ll walk home with me.
“…a predator, I tell you,” I hear Alex’s voice in the parking lot. This can’t be good.
I hurry out the door and see a few of my classmates standing around Alex as he preaches.
“He’ll get you all. He will. He’ll come for you when you least expect it. When you’re in your bed, or in the shower after gym. Guess who’s going to sneak up behind you. Clark!”
The crowd quivers in fear – In fear of me.
I should say something. I should do something. I step back. I hide. Luke barrels by me with more power than a locomotive.     
He rockets over to Alex and – POW! – he puts him on the ground with a single punch. My hero.
“What is wrong with you people?” Luke yells to our classmates. No one answers. “Clark is your friend, and you’re just going to stand there and let this creep talk about him like that?”
“Is it true?” James asks.
“Who cares?” Luke answers. “If it’s true or not, what does it change? If he was an alien would that have made him less of a friend when he climbed the tree to get your camera after this jerk threw it up there?”
James lowers his head, shakes it.
“And you, Luis. Would Clark’s being an alien have affected his willingness to help you write that letter to the editor about gender transitioning?”
“No,” Luis says in a much higher, softer voice than I’ve heard from him before. It was pleasant voice.
“That’s right, no. Yet you friends let this guy badmouth the same person who’d walk through fire for you. That’s not right.”

This might be a good time to make my way over. I stop a few yards away from the group and watch their foreheads fall. I nod to Luke, warning him that Alex is rocking up to his feet. Luke turns and readies his foot. I call to him before he moves it forward. He gathers his belongings, follows me home.
GO TO PREVIOUS CHAPTER                          CONTINUE TO NEXT CHAPTER

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THE FABULOUS LIFE OF CLARK 3

THE BUS DILEMMA, PART ONE

This planet is a nice one. I’m quite comfortable here. On days like today, when the sun is beating down on me, making me feel like I could bend steel or jump over a silo, Earth is choice. Even the dirt is pleasant. I kick some of it just ‘cause.
The plume of rising dust lines my eyes up squarely with the crooked K on our mailbox. Dad still shakes his head when he sees it. Just beyond that, I see my school bus approaching, bringing with it a new day.
I step on, smile to the driver, and turn down the aisle. Luke is sitting six seats from the back, as usual, but something feels different. I steady my feet and scan the brown, pleather seats for whatever it is that’s off. I see nothing but Luke, headphones barely clinging to his head as he bangs it up and down, back and forth. I wish I could see through the seats. Maybe if I concentrate…
“Hey there, buddy,” Luke drops the blaring music onto his shoulders and waives me over. “What you looking around all weird-like for?”
“I don’t know.” I shake off the funny feeling and sit next to my best friend.
“So, how’d it go?”
Luke always sits with his legs so far apart, it’s difficult to sit in the same seat with him. I fidget myself into some semblance of comfort before starting this likely-to-be-long conversation. “They were cool,” I tell him. “Then they weren’t.”
“Some uh, err, discomfort is to be expected,” Luke reasons my parents’ reactions. “I guess you need to look on the bright side – you told them you were an alien, and they were cool.”
I nudge him in the shoulder, he acts like I hit him with a baseball bat. “You can’t be saying it so loud.”
“Why not?” Luke averts his gaze to the window, pulling his hand away from his shoulder only quick enough to wipe his eyes. “I mean first of all, I’m proud to be friends with an alien, and I’m not afraid of anyone knowing that. And second, who’s here to tell? The bus driver? She can’t hear us over her hideous bluegrass.”
The bald head of my arch-nemesis, Alex, pops over the back of our seat and sags down, in front of me and Luke. “There’s me, too.”
I’m not really sure why we’re adversaries, but we are. Maybe it’s because I’m from a working-class family and his family could buy mine. I don’t know, but we don’t like each other. Could also be due to him being a total –
“Douchebag.” Luke pushes Alex’s head away from ours. “What kind of a loser are you? You graduated from high school like three years ago and you’re riding the middle school bus. Why?” Luke rolls to his knees and leans into the seatback. I follow. “Why don’t you have daddy buy you a car?”
“He did,” Alex says, wobbling his grinning face and shiny scalp. “He bought me a bus – company. My first business to run.”
“Alex, what did you hear?” I ask.
“Don’t call me that,” he screams very girlily. “I heard enough to know my first order of business. No aliens are allowed on my bus. So get off.”
“You can’t do that.” Luke moves from his knees to his feet, squeezes by me, and stands in the aisle next to Alex’s seat. “It’s illegal. You can’t just refuse service because of who my friend is. This isn’t Indiana.”
“You’re right.” Alex’s smug voice artificially deepens. “It’s Kansas, and we don’t take kindly to aliens here, either.”
Luke hands me his headphones and roles up his sleeves. He cocks back his arm, and the bus rolls to a stop.
“We’re here,” I tell him, grabbing his arm. “There’s no point. If he wants to turn away half of his customers, that’s his problem.”
Luke puffs his chest, grabs his stuff, and follows me off the bus.

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THE FABULOUS LIFE OF CLARK 2

TELLING THE RENTALS

I feel bad calling them the rentals all this time. I thought I was just being cool – playing with words and whatnot. Now, it seems kind of cruel.
They are really nice to me. Maybe they don’t know. Maybe I shouldn’t tell them. Luke took the news better than expected, but he’s Luke. He’s kind of awesome. I would never tell him that, but I do love the guy. Like a brother. I mean he’s like a brother.
My parents, though – I don’t know how they’re going to take this.
Luke assured me they already know. Apparently he’s had his suspicions longer than even I have. Said my parents would have to know – he mentioned biology, but I’m not convinced. What if I was switched at the hospital, and they have a perfect, normal son out there somewhere with an alien family? They might disown me.
I might, if I was them. They didn’t sign up for this – all the ridicule sure to flow from this small vill –
“Hey Clark,” the mail lady yells to me from the door.
“Oh, hello, Mrs...” She walks away before I can finish. And that’s exactly what I’m talking about. It’s such a small village, the mail-lady knows the name of a twelve-year-old boy who’s never even received a piece of mail before. People are always in each other’s business here. This is not going to go well.
Dad walks in, fresh off the farm, wearing the same super manly, plaid shirt and jeans he always wears. Gosh, dad, do you have another outfit? And here comes mom, in her blue-spotted, sundress, looking dazzling as always, and holding a basket of laundry – as always.
“Hey, Clark,” dad greets… wait for it, wait for it, “you think you can help your old man out with some of these barrels of hey out here?” He’s always asking me to help him with something on the farm. Maybe he does know and he’s trying to turn me into more of a man. Hu-man.
“Oh hunny,” mom stops him. “Dinner will be finished in just a few, don’t you think work can wait until after. I’d rather Clark not becoming all dirty like you.” She bounces her eyebrows as she speaks and leans her whole body into dad’s. While on her tippee toes, balancing the basket on her hip, she whispers in his ear.
For a while now, my hearing has been crazy good, and biological parents or not, that was disturbing. Dad smiles, winks. Eww.
“Okay, Clark,” dad wipes his hands on a germ-infested dish towel, infecting it further, throws it on the counter, “wash up.”
“Um,” I know I’m going to regret this, “can we talk first?”
“Of course we can, sweetie.” Mom sets down the basket full of dad’s never-worn-but-somehow-always-needing-to-be-washed options and lets the setting sun sparkle on her pearly whites as she sits at our table.
Dad sits too. “What is it, son?” His voice is so deep, I often wonder if he fakes it.
“Well, parents,” I need to ease them into this, “the other day, I was in the barn and…”
They both look at me, expecting, loving, innocent. Ugh. I can’t tell them about the incident – it’s too too. “I’m an alien,” I blurt it out.
Mom smiles. Dad doesn’t. Oh shoot.
“Well,” dad says through a sigh, “we wondered when this day would come.”
What? “Wait, you knew?”
“Of course we knew, baby,” mom stands up, walks over and wraps her arms around my head, inserting my cheek into her bosom. “We’re your parents. How could we not know our son is an alien?”
Gosh, I feel silly. “Yeah, Luke did say biologically…”
“Biology,” dad nearly yells the word. “That’s exactly right. It’s biology, son. Nothing to be ashamed of. You are what – who – you are who you are.”
He stands up, walks over, hugs me, too. Wow, that’s a first.
This all panned out exceedingly better than I’d imagined. Mom is still breathing, dad isn’t disowning me, and they didn’t call the FBI.
Since they are in such high spirits – “Hey, dad. There is another thing I wanted to ask about.”
“Ask away, son.”
I gently pull away from their embrace and look up into the eyes of my loving, wonderful parents and ask, “Can I play football this year?”
“No.” He doesn’t even consider it.
“But…”
“Listen, son,” dad says, as mom hooks the basket back to her hip and heads to the living room, “it just wouldn’t be um… it wouldn’t be fair to the other boys. They aren’t, well there’s nothing wrong with you, but they aren’t like you. You know? I mean, it just wouldn’t be fair.”
“No. I don’t know. I don’t see how it wouldn’t be fair to them. I can see how it’s not fair to me. I can’t play sports just because I’m different. I can’t help that. Like you said, its biology.”
“It is, but… son, if anyone ever found out…”
“I knew it. You don’t want anyone to know. You’re ashamed of me.”
“No, no, no, no,” mom returns to the kitchen, faster than a speeding…mother. “We are most certainly, absolutely, positively not ashamed of you. We both love you with all our hearts, and we accept you and love you for who you are. Who we are ashamed of, is everyone who will not accept you. Our world is full of closed-minded people – people who simply cannot or will not accept anything they aren’t used to. We are ashamed of them, and we are a little ashamed of ourselves for being afraid of them, but we are. We are afraid of what they might do to you if they find out.”
“When,” I correct her. “When they find out.”
“You’re right, son,” dad admits. “It is inevitable. They will find out someday. Someday, you will tell them – proudly. But please wait until they are a little more ready. Until you know exactly what it is you are telling them.”
“When is that?” I ask, half sarcastic, half really wanting to know.  
“I don’t know,” they both answer.

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THE FABULOUS LIFE OF CLARK 1

TELLING LUKE

“Right then is when I knew.” I shut my mouth hard before any other unfortunate words spill out. Just keep playing the game, and he’ll never even realize you started to say it.
“That’s when you knew what?” Luke asks.
Shoot. I jamb my thumb into the triangle repeatedly and at speeds that could set the black plastic ablaze. To my disappointment, no flames erupt. That would’ve been a good distraction. Killing him would be a decent one, too. He kills me. Double shoot.
“Hey, Clark.” He bumps me with his left elbow, never taking his eyes away from the screen. “You tell me this absurd story, made even more ridiculous by all the stuff you couldn’t say, and then you say that’s when you knew… What did you know?” He picks a new character. So do I. If only I could change my character in real life.
I guess I have to tell him now. I don’t know why it’s so hard. He’ll accept me for who I am. I think. I don’t know. What if he doesn’t? What if he gets up and walks away and never talks to me again? What if he punches me in the face? What if he wants to punch me in the face, but doesn’t, and then is just weird about it forever? What if I throw up? Oh boy, golly gee, I think I’m going to throw up.
“Hello?” Luke nails me with a combination of saliva and Combos and Combo-spit breath. “Earth to Clark – are you on this planet?”
“No.”
“You’re not. Huh.” Luke neatly creases the plastic and aluminum bag to form a perfect slide for whatever crumbs it may contain. He dangles it above his mouth, careful not to obstruct both eyes’ view of the game. One handed and artful as all-get-out, he traverses the maze, finds me, blows me up with an RPG. “You look like you are?”
“How do you know? Your eyes haven’t left the screen.”
“Wefwekon. Duh.” Luke nods to the TV screen and slushes around his tongue, plunging it into the gap in his two front teeth. He sucks and pushes air through the hole, flinging out a wet, mushy pretzel-cheese-pizza-ball. “Are you going to tell me or what?”
I’ve never said it out loud. I guess that’s why it’s so hard. The event only just happened yesterday, but I’ve known, I mean really knew, for a while now. But I’ve never actually said it. Does saying it make it real? Does not saying it make it any less true? Do I want it to not be true?
I gulp nothing. “I’m an alien.”
He looks at me. This is bad. He actually looked away from the game. I kill him. I think he might’ve allowed me to kill him. This is really bad.
“Huh.” He stares at me for a second in real time and twelve years in Luke time. He turns back to the game. Shifts around his weight in the gamer chair my mom bought for me last Christmas. Says nothing more.
“That’s all you got for me?” I get up and grab another pillow, add it to the pile, and sit back down. “All you can say is ‘huh’?”
“You got any more of that trail mix you brought to school the other day? You know the spicy one. Gawd, I love me some spicy trail mix.”
This is infuriating. I stand up and do the unthinkable – I move between Luke and the screen.
“Hey!” he protests.
“I just told you the most important thing I’ve ever told anyone, and all you have to say is ‘huh’?”
“What else do you want me to say?” He tries to push me.
I don’t allow his hands to move me a centimeter.
He hisses and retracts his hands as though he just punched stone. A bit dramatic. “What else do you want me to say? Who cares if you’re an alien or not. You’re my best bud no matter what you are. I mean it’s not like you’re going to…” Luke stops, shifts in my extra comfortable, very ergonomic seat. “You’re not going to try anything…” he squirms a little more. “Like with my butt.”
“No,” I shout.
“Alright,” he reaches down and turns on the seat cooling function on my magnificent, multi-functional chair. “I don’t know, like, your needs or anything. Probing. You know.”
           “I’m not going to probe you.”

CONTINUE TO NEXT CHAPTER

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About Jim

Jim O'Donnell is a guy.

(More detailed, please)

Jim O'Donnell is a guy who does things.

(More detailed, pretty please)

Jim O'Donnell is a guy who does things in Buffalo, NY.

(Oh a location, great, that was very helpful. How about instead of guy you say your profession)

Jim O'Donnell is a writer who does things in Buffalo, NY.

(A writer? That's interesting. What do you write? Because I just googled you and I see no publishing credits)

Jim O'Donnell is an unpublished writer who does things in Buffalo, NY.

(Unpublished writer? Is that really the only thing you want to say about yourself. I mean, that's cool, I guess, if that's what you want. But maybe, and I'm just thinking out loud here, it might be a good idea to talk about other things you've been/done as not an excuse, but yeah, okay an excuse for you not being published yet.)

Jim O'Donnell was born more than thirty years ago and did not write a single thing for his entire first year of life mostly because word processors weren't really a thing back then. Plus he was lazy. He basically just lounged around the trailer park he lived in, near the Marine Corps base his dad was stationed at. Once he moved to Buffalo he continued to not write for another eleven years, now blaming Nintendo and comics for his lack of productivity.

When he was twelve, he wrote his first novelette and it was magnificent (for a 12 year old). But he never even tried to publish it because he was a loafer, and he since lost it to wherever floppy disks disappeared to. For the next six years, Jim focused on his musical career which consisted of writing songs no one would ever hear and trying out different mic holding positions in front of his bedroom mirror.

Then he went to college where he generally used the old, tired excuse of "I'm working two jobs and going to school full-time, I don't have time to write" to explain away his lack of productivity, as if bar tending forty hours a week, roofing maybe thirty, and attending classes for only fifteen left "no time" to write. There was obviously some time since he started writing three books: a Middle Grade one about a skateboarding, twelve-year-old detective; an Adult one about adult things told in verse; and a Young Adult manuscript about a post apocalyptic Earth. He lost the MG manuscript to alcohol, the Adult one he still claims he'll finish, and the YA one he switched to Adult and eventually finished and actually tried to publish (more on that later).

Then Jim did two really dumb things that he once again used as a reason not to finish the books he was working on: He went to law school and became a cop. As a cop, he was only working between fifty and sixty hours a week and law school was like maybe twenty. In case people aren't the best at math, this meant there was still definitely time to work on the books. And Jim did work on them, but definitely not fast enough because he wasn't able to get any done before being nearly killed while working as a cop. Then, once again, Jim had another excuse for not writing; a super brief coma. It was barely a week and he was out of the hospital in less than a month. In the immortal words of the late, great Justin Timberlake, cry me a river.

Eventually Jim got over the whole almost dying nonsense and went back to work and stopped making excuses and finished that YA-turned-Adult book he mentioned before. Except he wasted too much time with all the being-read-his-last-rights BS and the market was saturated with dystopians and no one would even look at it. So Jim did what any brain-injured, distressed author, working now as a police supervisor and a lawyer would do, he ran for congress.

After losing his congressional bid, obviously, he wrote a couple more books and got into a contest called Pitch Wars and he met a bunch of other awesome writers and things were pretty cool. Then came Will Smith.

The police department doctor watched the movie Concussion and decided that CTE (the concussion-related disease of topic in the movie) must be real and Jim must have it. So despite Jim's attempts to convince the department that Will Smith is not actually a real doctor, but is in fact only an actor who played one in a movie based on a dissenting medical opinion, the department decided to retire Jim.

Now, as he waits for retirement, Jim has no excuse not to be a published writer. So he will be. In 2017.

(Okay, that was way too long. How about for the purposes of this blog, you stick with writer and instead you expand on the things you do.)

Jim O'Donnell is a writer who breathes in Buffalo, NY.

(Funny. Now you're just being an asshole. What important things are you doing?)

Jim O'Donnell is a writer who apparently does things in Buffalo, NY that are more important than breathing. Apparently he's capable of sustainable, permanent, anaerobic respiration.

(...)

Jim O'Donnell is a writer who spends his days playing with his three children, trying to convince his wife that writing is not a waste of time, and pondering the proper usage of the words who and whom.


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