Thursday, December 13, 2018

My husband doesn't know I wrote this

Hey all, Robin here. Since Michael "called me out" in his last post, I thought I would hijack his blog...and yes, I'm working on a bread post...just have to get a loaf I'm proud of.  We are in the middle of a holiday sale (which is going quite nicely, thanks for the support) but as such, I'm in Michael's email checking around for any "shipping related" messages and so I'm snooping around a bit.

No, I've not found any emails to "the other woman" (I think he'd be smart enough to use a separate email for such things), but I did find this response to a reader, and I must say, I teared up (just a little) while reading it. So, while Michael is downstairs making his morning coffee, I'm sneaking on here to share this with you, dear readers.  I found it touching. I hope you do, too.

Michael J. Sullivan

Dec 11, 2018, 10:24 PM (2 days ago)
to chanapatterson81
When I first started writing I never thought anyone would ever read a word. I was thirteen, and I was right. Ten years later I was still at it, still writing. People were still not reading. Ten years after that, guess what? Still writing—writing every day, producing a novel a year. Readers, zero. There were no encouraging comments. No one bought me a thesaurus for Christmas, a pen set, or a T-shirt that said: The only way to fail is to stop trying. Most ignored what I did. My wife was always supportive. Busy making all the money while her lazy husband stayed home watching the children and doing "that writing thing". She didn't have time to read what I created but never made me feel what I was doing was foolish or a waste of time. 

Eventually, I figured that out for myself. 

I quit writing. I locked that dream in a drawer and went to work in advertising. For twelve years I pioneered computer graphic design. Did pretty well, but I got bored. So bored I opened that long-forgotten drawer. You see, I had this crazy idea in my head that refused to go away. Every time I took the dog for a walk I kept thinking about these two guys, a pair of thieves. I reminded myself that was stupid. Writing was bad. Writing had sucked up twenty years of my life and given back nothing. Then I'd go for a bike ride or drive to the grocery store and the two guys would pop back in my head. I saw them climbing a tower to steal a sword, but when they got there they see this dead body, and a crown and—no! Writing is bad. No one—no one will ever read any of it, and if no one reads it, what's the point?

One day I had nothing to do. I sat down at the computer and started typing. It sort of just poured out. I wrote all day, went to sleep, got up, wrote all the next day. I kept doing that. One month later I finished a novel. I called it Heir to the Throne. I kept going. The following month I finished another novel. I called it Avempartha. I kept going. The next one took three months because it was the holidays by then. I called that one Legends and Lore. Then I started Emerald Storm. I got half way and we moved from Raleigh to Washington DC. I stopped writing for several months during the transition. We weren't doing too hot financially and I had to get a job. I knew I would never finish if I worked a full-time job. But I kept going. 

I finished Emerald Storm, and then Wintertide. Finally, I finished Percepliquis, and I became depressed—really depressed. What I had feared finally happened. I had spent another handful of years writing and no one was going to read what I made. This time it was far worse. This time what I wrote was good—real good. I knew it. I knew it so deeply. If only someone would read...but no one would. This. too, would go in a drawer and be forever forgotten. 

My wife noticed I was depressed. She figured out why and in an effort to make me feel better promised to read the books. Her grudging kindness gave way to interest and then obsession. She skipped work to read the last book. She loved it. I was happy. That's all I really wanted, just someone to read and like it. That wasn't enough for my wife. She got it published. A small press, a real small press. No one noticed. Then the publisher's financial problems forced us to get back the rights and self publish. 

For years few noticed. The only ones who read the books were people I asked. Some seemed to like the books. They said things like, not too bad for a self-published author. Then I started selling more and they said things like, this is one of the best self-published books I've read this year. Finally, as Wintertide was released someone said: This is the best self-published book I've ever read. I was proud of that. It only had one qualifier. 

Then I was picked up by the New York publisher Orbit. Suddenly people were saying: This is not bad for a debut author. Then: this is one of the best this year. Finally, this is the best book I've read this year. 

People were reading my stories and liking them. They liked them so much they wrote me emails. And those messages kept getting better. 

"These are some of the best books I've ever read!" 

"You are one of my favorite new authors."

Then one day: "I just wanted to let you know that I love your writings you are my fav author and I hope you have a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for your books, they have made me laugh, cry, and have opened a new world to me. Please do not ever stop writing."

No qualifiers. No reservations.  

It's been more than forty years. Thanks for reading, thanks for giving me a point. Thanks for saying I'm your favorite author. It means a lot.

Thanks for the Merry Christmas. 

Merry Christmas to you. 

I'm still writing. 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

My Wife Made Me Write This

My wife, Robin, suggested writing this blog post. She "said" it was good to show the non-writing side of my life.

I tried to explain it will simply ruin the tiny residue of coolness I still retained—that quasi-aura of awe that being an author grants an individual so long as a lot is left to the imagination. Robin probably feels that since I failed to do dishes yesterday, I’m getting too full of myself, and so maybe this was her way to deflate my ego and ruin my rep. Personally I think the fact that  I’m a fantasy/science fiction novelist who played the original ziplock-bagged edition of Dungeons and Dragons back in the seventies, (great way to meet girls, let me tell you); or that at age fifty-seven, I still find time to play Early Access computer games on Steam; or that I created a replica of my fictional fortress, Alon Rhist, in Minecraft would be enough. Apparently not.

Now that I’m starting to regain a modicum of respectability due to waning interest in the oversaturated superhero market, living in a rustic-chic cabin in the mountains, and having visited Europe twice, she wants me to throw all that away and expose another geeky interest of mine. Either she’s telling the truth, or just wants to ensure I never have the opportunity to run off with a hot, forty-nine-year-old babe who’s into older guys that make up stories about elves. I’m thinking that might be it, but I’ll let you be the judge.

Here goes: I’ve started birding.

For those of you who have no idea what that means, it means you’re normal. I think most birders recognize they are different. You know, the way those of us who desperately needed to know the names of all five wizards in Middle-Earth—including the two “blue” Istari—are “different”. And just like a person who might not want to interchange Trekkies and Trekkers in front of a Star Trek fan, you want to know there is a difference between Birdwatching and Birding.

Birdwatching means you like to watch birds, like some ornithologist’s creepy voyeur obsession. Birding is Pokémon Go for old people. Well, older people. I suppose you don’t have to be old to enjoy birding. In fact, it’s a huge benefit to be young and in good physical shape. Given, however, the primary activity involves walking slowly and quietly outdoors, generally in natural places like forests and fields, or just sitting for hours listening and waiting, it tends to attract the AED people (Attention Excess Disorder), or “older people”. Oh, and Boy Scouts. They can get a merit badge for being able to identify twenty birds.

I started this bizarre obsession on Thanksgiving—technically the day after. You see, the family was looking for a good movie to watch. Given my afore mentioned lackluster attraction to superhero flicks we watched an old Steve Martin, Jack Black, Owen Wilson film called The Big Year, which is based off a novel by Mark Obamack. Both are the mostly true story of the 1998 Big Year Birding contest.

Let me tell you about what a Big Year is cause this is where things get a little weird—in a cool, nostalgic throwback way—but weird nonetheless.

The Big Year is a contest where individuals try to see more bird species in the US and Canada than anyone else. People go to great lengths spending tens of thousands of dollars, sacrifice a significant amount of a year's time, oftentimes suffer terrible discomfort, and sometimes abandoning marriages to achieve victory. What do they win? Nothing. Who checks to makes sure people really see what they claim they saw? Nobody. The whole thing is on the honor system and there is no prize other than your name at the top of a list published in a magazine no one reads. It’s absolutely Downton Abbey British.

It’s also a good movie. After watching it, the next morning, a bird landed on the railing of my deck next to a feeder my wife had me put up a couple weeks before. My daughter spotted it and got my old National Geographic Pocket Bird Identifier out and concluded it was a Dark-Eyed Junco. I got my DSLR camera, snapped on the 72-200mm lens (the one I recently bought to take on the Rhine Cruise that previous summer) and let her shoot the bird. 

That’s how it started.

Later that day, as a wholesome family outing, I took everyone across the street to the fire road that leads up the mountains of Shenandoah National Park. We brought the camera and binoculars. This was our first Birding trip. We saw one lousy bird. Robin thought it was a nice way to get exercise; my son just liked walking in the woods; Sarah and I eyed each other realizing the truth: we were now rivals in a serous competition.

We made a deal. One year. Identifiable photographs only. The most bird species wins. Deadline: next Thanksgiving. Bring your A-game, and your photos or settle for turkey.


Sarah bought her first telephoto lens. I shopped to upgrade mine, but couldn’t justify $2000 for sharper pics. I’m not that competitive—not yet. I did get the eBird and Audubon apps that shows hot spots to help me locate hard targets. And the wonderful Merlin app that will decode a photo and help me identify what bird I just saw. Real birders don’t require photos, but then read birders know which birds are which. They just use binoculars and jot the names in notebooks they call “Bird Journals”.

In the old days, before handheld cameras with rifle-length zoom lenses, birders used actual guns to kill birds. It was the only way to be sure what they spotted. John James Audubon, the famed American ornithologist, naturalist, and painter, made a habit of killing hundreds of birds, keeping a handful of the best to do his paintings from. He used wire to pose them and revolutionized wildlife art with his “life-like” poses. But starting in 1900, some crazy folks who were part of the Audubon Society (Audubon in name only as it was formed by George Bird Grinnell who sought to protect birds from the mass slaughter occurring at the time—and who had clearly never met Audubon, who died decades earlier) thought it might be fun to count instead of kill the birds.

So began the first CBC or Christmas Bird Count. After that, a guy named Roger Troy Peterson made one of the first Field Guides so people could identify birds by just looking. In the process, he performed a Big Year in 1953 by seeing 572 species. In 1973 Ken Kaufman, a poor, eighteen-year-old kid got 666 by hitchhiking the US and living on Little Friskies Cat food mixed with vegetable soup. Poor Ken lost that year to Floyd Murdock who got 669, but it only cost Ken $1000. James Vardaman spent over $44,000 in 1979 to spot 699. Ken wrote a Field Guide of his own.

Then in 1998 Sandy Komito, Al Levantin, and Greg Miller competed for the Big Year. This is what the movie and book are based on. I won’t tell you who won or what their scores were. It goes against my ethics and livelihood to give out spoilers.

Not being bird experts, my daughter and I needed photos to ID perps, or peeps, as the case may be. So we take photos. After Thanksgiving, we returned to our respective homes and began the hunt. Living in the mountains, I thought I had the advantage, and quickly added Song Sparrow, Golden Crowned Kinglet, Mockingbird, Red-Bellied Woodpecker, Blue Jay, Cooper's Hawk, Northern Cardinal, Turkey Vulture, Male/Female Mallard, White-Breasted Nuthatch, Rock Pigeon, European Starling, Northern Bluebird, Great Blue Heron, Downy Woodpecker, Northern Flicker, Raven, Bufflehead Duck, Killdeer, House Sparrow, Canadian Geese, Kestrel, and Morning Dove to my list.  Here's some of the pictures.

To my dismay, I learned Washington DC (near where my daughter lives), with its proximity to the Potomac, drew a lot of birds. After one week she was ahead by three. One was a Bald Eagle. Doh!

One of the primary differences between Birdwatching and Birding is that Birders hunt. Birdwatchers sit and enjoy witnessing birds visit their feeders. Birders travel. While I drove to local lakes to hunt birds, I really became a genuine Birder when I dragged my wife on a two-hour drive to the Occoquan Bay Wildlife Refuge to spend the day shooting birds. The weather was bad for shooting—dark and overcast, but at least it wasn’t raining and it wasn’t freezing. Best of all I bagged fourteen birds that day including a pair of eagles. 

I also met my first real Birder. I had heard about them. Rumor held they are quiet, shy but exceptionally friendly and helpful, and always eager to talk about birds. The fella I met was Scott Sarratt, who frequents the refuge and was a font of birding tips and wisdom. At that moment, birding became a massive multi-player game.

I now have a birding journal, a new strap for my binoculars, Ken Kaufman’s Field Guild, and the National Geographic’s hardcover Complete Birds of North America. My count is presently a cool forty confirmed bird species. Forty in eleven days is a decent start for a novice, pretty good even.

The real question: What is Sarah’s count?

She’s been quiet about it, which has me worried. I think she’d booked a charter flight to the Aleutian Isle of Attu for a three-week birding hunt. I have no proof, but I wouldn’t put it past her.

So there goes my reputation as the suave, sophisticated author. Maybe I should insist Robin write a blog on how she’s become a bread-baking fanatic and is desperately trying to extend the life of our perennial plants by taking clippings and Frankeinseining them.

Plants, birds, bread…yeah, we’re definitely AED people.