Saturday, October 30, 2010

Gearing up for NaNoWriMo!

Oh yes!  National Novel Writing Month begins on November 1st and I plan on hitting the ol' keyboard hard, heave, fast and furiously for the next 30 days.  Er, well, you actually have just under 30 days since you have to be certified by the end of November to be declared a "winner."

I have been debating whether or not I should write the follow-up to "Summer Breaks."  Given that without NaNoWriMo the book would never been finished, it's a safe bet that NaNoWriMo would certainly help me a long way on "Lost Summer."

I am considering writing a slew of short (and short-short) stories this go-round, which I know is not "exactly" what NaNoWriMo is about.  I figure 50,000 words is 50,000 words.  We'll just have to wait and see...

Are *YOU* participating in the contest?  If so, shoot me your NaNo link and I'll check in on ya!

Here's mine:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

"All This Digging"

The title story from my debut collection of short (and short-short) stories:

“I hate all this digging,” the old man said aloud to no one. His overalls covered in dirt, he thrust his shovel into the hard ground. After three attempts, he finally broke through. He tossed the dirt aside, and wiped his brow with the sleeve of his flannel shirt. A biting cold wind blew across his face. He was already breathing hard, and the wind seemed to take any remaining breath with it. Turning his back to the wind, he shoved the tool into the ground.

Little pieces of dirt and rock broke off. He scooped them up and tossed them aside. For several hours, the old man hammered at the ground with his shovel. Stopping once during the day to eat half a sandwich and drink a small glass of orange juice, he went back to work until the ground before him hid in darkness. Before quitting for the night, he pulled a wide, long wooden board across the gap left by the day’s labor. Chilled air had reddened his hands. He tossed the shovel aside as he went in to the house.

Elmer walked into the small kitchen and rubbed one chapped hand through his thin gray hair. The kitchen could barely contain the olive green refrigerator in the corner, the orange stove on the wall opposite the table, and the countertop that held a single-slice toaster. He was alone now that his wife was dead and the small kitchen helped keep him company. He had not used the stove for anything other than making coffee and heating soup. The toaster on the counter had lost its chrome luster long ago, now looking as old as the man felt.

He walked over to a drawer and pulled it open, removed a sack of sliced bread, took out two pieces, placed one of them in the toaster and pushed the lever down. He caught his reflection in the faded chrome of the toaster. Eyes, once young and vibrant now sat at the bottom of two deep sockets, framed by the crow’s feet on the outside of each corner. Years of hard work and hard living had written themselves into the wrinkles on his face. The sound of wood crashing against the hard ground caused him to turn just in time to see a figure outside his window round the corner behind the house and disappear. The old man grunted, turned back to face the kitchen, walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a glass of juice left over from lunch. After his toast, he went to bed.

The morning sun woke too late for the old man who had been out digging for at least an hour before the sun had risen. And, by mid-afternoon, the little pile of scooped out dirt had grown into a mound. He had worked through lunch while the wind cooperated with him this time. The air was cold, but the wind had blown very little. The shovel chewed the ground beneath it, and by the end of the day the old man could have laid down in the hole since it was as long as he was and about two feet deep. He could not help but laugh at the thought that this hole was beginning to look like a grave as he wiped his brow on the sleeve of the same flannel shirt worn the previous day.

There was no point in washing the thing. Not yet, anyway. Tossing the shovel aside, he covered the hole and went in for the night. He sat at the table after finishing his toast, listening to the sounds of a cold night. That is, he was listening to nothing in the silence of his empty house. Upon hearing the familiar sound of rubber on plywood, he turned off the kitchen light and went to bed.

The next day, his work began immediately. The shovel, now slightly bent at the end, attacked the ground. Soon, the lonely old man fell into a routine – digging, covering, eating and sleeping and digging, covering, eating and sleeping until his mound grew large and his hole sank deep to the point where he dug footholds into the sides to help him escape at the end of the day. He hollowed out that place until the green grass of his manicured lawn disappeared from view as he stood inside his creation. The excavation continued until he could easily lie down and not touch a wall without stretching himself, the hole resembling a grave now more than before. The mountain of dirt blocked the stone path that ran behind his house, leaving the hole as the only viable way through the yard.

A garden hose ran to the faucet on the other side of the house. The sky above had grown dark and the winter wind nipped the old man’s ears and hands as he turned on the water and sprayed everything. The mountain of dirt became a large, brown pile of mud in his backyard, the water running off the grass into the hole. A smile broke across the man’s face, despite the freezing water pouring over his hands while he sprayed the walkway, the walls of the hole, and the door to the kitchen. The stream of water lingered on the yard and the floor of the hole.

When finished, he threw the hose against the wall, walked around to the front of his house, went inside, opened the windows to the cold winter night and turned off the lights. In total darkness, rubbing his hands with a towel he had placed on the table before he went out that morning, the widower sat watching and listening. The sound of a peddling bicycle broke the silence followed by the sound of tires running over the breaks in the sidewalk at the front of the house. As the sounds grew louder, the old man grinned and bared the few remaining teeth in his head. A frantic shuffling noise and the sound of metal on ice swept into the room. The old man heard a short shriek, a grunt, and a very solid THUD.

He grunted as he stood from his chair and made his way to the windows, looking out to see if the neighbors had been awakened by the sounds coming from his backyard. Of course, most of his neighbors were in bed at this late hour, and even jet planes flying directly over their houses wouldn’t cause any of them to stir much anyhow. Satisfied, tired, and with a nearly toothless grin, the old man shut the windows, shed his clothes and went to bed.

Morning came just as it always had. However, the old man lay in his bed. He was not outside digging as he had been during recent days past; instead he slept until the sounds of the suburb floated past the front door. Every so often, a car would crunch past the dwelling on the packed snow covering the street. Some of the neighborhood children played down the street where they belonged. Waking up enough to wander into the living room, he peered out the large picture window. Snow covered the ground and hung from the trees, and he smiled at the beauty before him. This was no day for admiring the wonders of nature, however. He dressed, went out the front door and through the gate to his backyard. He shuffled along, taking care to remove any indication that a bike, or anything else, had come through his property. Slowly, he approached the hole.

He smiled again as he bent over the edge, peering inside to see the shape of the young trespasser lying at the bottom of the pit. The hooligan was unrecognizable because the snow - white, red and pink - piled up into a small mound where the rider’s rested. The old man stood straight again, looked around at the bright white that surrounded him, and rummaged through the snow. He uncovered what he had been searching for, pulling the shovel out from beneath its white fluffy blanket. He began to move his mountain, snow and all. His first shot landed squarely on the intruder’s head, causing the snow on it to shift. The snow, mixed with dirt and blood, slid away to reveal the torn and twisted profile of a young boy.

It was the Johnson kid or maybe one of the Jackson twins. Did it really matter? For a moment, Elmer Sullivan stood staring at the face below. He had killed a neighborhood child. And for what? Taking a shortcut through his back yard nearly every single night for the past two years? “Yes,” the tired, old man said between clenched teeth to no one; to the boy. Stroke by stroke, he moved the dirt, heavy with ice and snow, from the mound back into the hole. It fell in easier than it had been extracted, yet the old man guessed he had much work ahead of him.

“I hate all this digging,” the old man said aloud to no one.

(Copyright 2003, 2009 David Henderson)

Monday, October 25, 2010

My First Appearance/Signing

The photo above was taken by one of the daughters of our very best friends at the signing event!

"So," you're asking right now (I can feel it), "How'd it go!?"

I left the house with my daughter in-tow, headed for the venue which is about 45 miles from our house.  I have been to the Four States Fairgrounds a couple times, and have passed by it MANY times on my way to a couple of the schools I service as part of my day job.  As we approached the exit, however, my daughter and I began to play a game of some sort and that was distraction enough for me to miss the exit.  It also proved distraction enough that when I realized that I should be exiting soon, I knew something was amiss.  I was seeing restaurants, stores, and other landmarks that only added to my confusion.  The fairgrounds aren't down this far, I told myself, second-guessing everything before my eyes as if awakening from a dream.  I took the last exit before going "way too far" and pulled into the Best Buy parking lot.  Firing up the Droid and asking it to route me to the fairgrounds, I discovered I overshot the exit by several miles. 

Now, a normal person would find the quickest route back to the Interstate and head for the correct exit.  Not me. That would be too easy and lack the adventuring spirit I evidently possessed that day.  I drove through bizarre construction patterns, missing one on-ramp, until I found myself on a road that would eventually get me back on the correct path.

Once I took the exit for the fairgrounds, I followed the various signs that led to the entrance and ultimately to the building where the event was taking place.  By that time, I was sure I was the last person arriving and that everyone was standing inside tapping their shoes on the floor and checking their watches.  I was wrong on both counts.

My daughter and I unpacked the car and hurried into the building.  Inside, a large circle of tables occupied the middle area of the open floor while many other tables lined the side walls.  Some people walked around, purposefully looking at each table's display or examining the displays on the walls behind those on the outer edges of the building's main room.  Other folks were still putting their displays together.  Still others sat behind their tables, reading or looking around.  I approached the first table to my left (where I saw event bags, t-shirts, etc) and spotted a placard with my name and book titles on it.  It also had a picture, but the person in the photo was definitely *not* me.  I met Tammy Thompson (author and event header-upper).

"Is this," I held up the sign, "my sign? 'Cause, I don't think this is me."  I smiled and chuckled a little, hoping to make light of things.  She bit.

"What!? That's not you?" She said jokingly.  She laughed and tossed the sign aside after taking from me.  "No, you're..." she looked around the room for a moment, "Over here! Next to me."  We walked to the table where my *real* placard rested on top of a six-foot table with a red tablecloth.  A stack of event bookmarks also sat on the table.  I thanked her, and my daughter and I began unpacking my box.  I created a small twin-stack of "All This Digging" and then laid out five copies in something not quite like a fan and then did the same with "Summer Breaks."  I had created business cards that featured the covers of the books with my contact info and I laid those out on the table.  My daughter arranged the bookmarks and moved the baseball card-sized contact cards (I had no business card stock, and used what I had instead - trading card creation paper).  Inspiration struck, and I stood a copy of each book upright with the BACK facing outward so that passersby could read the synopses while standing at my table.

My daughter and I made the round, checking out other author's books and displays.  There were several children's book authors, many fiction authors and several non-fiction authors.  I met secular authors, Christian authors, a couple fantasy writers, and more than a few southern writers (which would stand to reason given the location!).  Some authors had big posters and banners, while others had their own signs.  Still others thought to bring candy in dishes.  Most of the folks had their pricing and "checks payable" info on their signs.  I was feeling more and more like the novice outsider who had mistakenly received an invitation to the ball.

Luckily, the woman next to me, opposite the side Tammy occupied, (and I forget her name just now) was in the same boat I was - new author, first-timer.  Though, she had a VERY cool model to go with her novel and she *did* print the price of her book on her sign.  I removed my sign from its holder and wrote the prices next to the images of my covers.  I also invented an "event special" in which folks would get a discount for buying both books at the same time.

Opposite of my table, the "Kids Corner" took up a nice portion of one corner, and children of all ages were in there coloring pages, writing for a contest or listening to tories being read to them.  My daughter never left my side (at least not for a long, long time) despite my best efforts to shoo her over to the kid-friendly area.

I talked with visitors and other authors.  To my surprise, a co-worker appeared and bought a copy of each book!  Then, another woman I knew from one of my area schools also bought a book!  I had sold three books within just a few moments.  Based on a talk I had with a "regular" to these things, I was told to expect to sell about half a dozen.  I was halfway there! 

Throughout the day, patrons (or authors or anyone for that matter) could buy raffle tickets to benefit St. Jude hosptial.  Drawings were held roughly fifteen minutes apart.  There were a LOT of prizes, and by day's end, even we had won four things!

At one point, my wife came by and she hung out with me for a couple hours.  Our best friends (whose daughter took the picture at the top of this post) dropped by, which was a total surprise!!  We had a lot of fun.

In addition to books, kids' activities, and folks, the event also featured free sandwiches, snacks, and drinks! 

Around 6pm, the kids all went outside for a pinata-busting and my daughter came rushing back with a double handful of goodies!  I sold a couple more books during the day and at 630 or so, Kathy Patrick (the featured speaker) got up and told us about her "Beauty and the Book" endeavor, some of her life story and about her author event "Pulpwood Queen's Book Club" (and the guy version, "Timber Guys").  She is a  lively, fun woman who is taking full advantage of her time on this earth!

I offered a copy of "Summer Breaks" to each Ms. Patrick and to Ms. Thomspon, and they both gladly received their copy.

I thoroughly enjoyed myself, and my daughter not only stayed to spend the whole day with me (she was given the chance to go home with her Mom but refused), but she also finally went to the kids corner to color a couple pages.

I made several notes should the opportunity to join a signing arise in the future:
  • Make sure you have business cards/contact info ready to hand out to EVERYONE that passes by,
  • Print out an 8.5" x 11" page with your pricing for display,
  • Provide a notebook for people to provide contact info,
  • Talk to EVERYONE that comes to your table (turn small talk into book talk - remember, you are trying to SELL your book(s)!),
  • Don't take yourself too seriously (some authors were a bit haughty for my liking),
  • Stay for the whole thing! Because I stayed, I learned the 'secret' to being invited to Kathy Patrick's author gatherings!  I hope to invited someday!
  • Have realistic expectations for the number of sales you will make (and try not to be hurt if you don't sell as many as you thought you would)
Oh sure, I have only been to my first signing ever, but hopefully some of the things I learned will help someone else out there.  After all, everyone has to go through this once as their "first time."

(The "gathering." I am standing to the right of the woman in light blue near the center. You can see my head and a portion of my navy polo.)

Friday, October 22, 2010

T-Minus one day

When I think about the "Gathering of Authors" taking place tomorrow (Saturday, Oct 23), my heart starts racing, I get a hollow feeling in the pit of my stomach, and my head spins a little.  I am nervous about my first outing as a published author.

I'm mainly nervous because I have no idea what to expect.  Will there be a hundred people there? Five hundred? Maybe the 25 authors and their families only?  Which is better? Which is worse?  I have no idea.  What if I forget the names of people who want a signed book?  I mean like if a lifelong friend comes in, and I am so nervous I forget their name!?  Does that even happen?

I did find out that there is no formal speaking to take place.  Too many authors and not enough time to give everyone a chance to speak.  So, we are allowed to speak during a "lull" if we'd like.  Will I recognize a lull when I see it?  Even if I do, will I even WANT to get up and speak!?

What if I don't sell any books?  What if I sell out of them!?  Does that even happen?

I understand there is a write-up in the area's local paper about the event.  That is cool!  In fact, I found the online version of the article:

I'm not mentioned by name, and I don't know if I feel good about it or if I'm hurt.  Yeah, not feeling too hurt about it. LOL.  I'll let ya know how it goes!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Misinterpretation of "The Stream's Secret"

(posted originally on

While working on my Master's degree, I took a class that focused on the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood.  One of Dante Gabriel Rossetti'smost famous poems is "The Stream's Secret."  It is a haunting, romantic tale.  At least, that's how *I* took it.  In fact, I wrote a short-short story based on what I thought was happening in the poem.  Turns out my interpretation received very mixed reviews.  At least it sparked conversation. Note: When this was written, I was still pretty 'young' in my writing development.

A Misinterpretation of "The Stream's Secret" by David Henderson (c)2000, 2010

Peter knelt in the long, thick grass along the stream. Intently, he watched the water flow over rocks, under branches, and around a few grassy knolls. He could see the bottom of the stream perfectly. The rocks and pebbles danced along the bed without moving. Light played with the rippling water, animating the inanimate. He tilted his head slightly, his right ear bent ever so carefully toward the bubbling brook. He held his breath. The bubbling, fumbling stream did not speak to him. He sighed deeply and shook his head.

"Did you not see?" Peter asked the stream. "Did you not hear?" he yelled out, clenching his fists at the brook. He stood, his well-pressed trousers now wrinkled and stained green from the grass. He paid no attention to his pants. Slowly, he turned, stretching his arms out in a wide arc to the place that had been behind him.

"She was here," he told no one. Taking two steps away from the stream, he pointed at the ground where he now stood. "She was right here," he repeated loudly. He fell to his knees, slumping over himself until his hair rested on the ground. Tears fell from his eyes onto the grass. His body heaved as he sobbed, still crunched like a child hiding from the seeker. The mucus from his nose dangled toward the ground, swaying with each sob-ridden breath he took. Finally, it broke, landing in a pool beneath his nose.

Suddenly, he slammed one fist into the ground. Absently, we wiped his pressed jacket sleeve across his face, taking with it tears and snot and pain. He stood, ignoring the grass stains on his sleeves where his elbows had rested on the ground. Spinning on one heel, he turned to face the babbling brook once again.

"Why won't you talk to me?" he scorned. He took two steps back toward the stream, brought his leg back and kicked his patent leather shoe at the water. A plume erupted as his foot surfaced from the depths of the stream. Ignoring the soaked sock in his shoe, he kicked at the stream once more. Again, the stream answered with a fountain of water where his foot exited through the surface. Now, the stirred dirt from the bed hid the stones and rocks that were once visible. The stream's flow carried the sediment away from Peter, as it carried Sarah not long ago.

Sarah was beautiful. He long, coppery hair flowed down over her shoulders and covered her breasts. She was exquisite. Her long, cream-colored arms could reach the night sky and pluck out a star. Her shapely, toned legs coulee leap a rainbow and land her in the pot of gold at the end of it. Her satiny smooth skin glistened in the morning dew as she lay in the grass.

Peter turned, looking over his shoulder at the spot where he had been sobbing. "As she lay in the grass," he said aloud. His eyes darkened as he turned his gaze back toward the stream. That horrid stream. That keeper of secrets. His heart pounded in his chest. His breathing had become deep, heavy. He clenched his jaw tight, then spat into the water. "Keeper of secrets," he growled.

His mind flashed - Sarah lay in the grass, nude. He blinked at the stream. Flash - her lover beside her. He stared at a rock on the stream's bed. Flash - her lover slain. Rippling waves cannot break his stare. Flash - his around her throat. His jaw clenched tighter. He dragged her into the stream. His jaw moved, emitting a sharp "pop" as his teeth rubbed against each other. Sarah kicked, squirmed, twisted. Her face plunged into the stream. He wide eyes stared at Peter in disbelief. Her mouth moved, "Peter! Peter!" Her lips formed words, but make no sound. "No! Peter!" Air rushed in and out of her lungs, making bubbles at the surface. The babbling brook became violent at the intrusion. Dirt, rocks and sand all tossed and churned wildly as Sarah splashed in the water.

A small, wry smile crept on Peter's face. He blinked twice then focused his gazed on the spot where Sarah drank her last breath. The smile on Peter's face softened as he pictured her there in the water. The stream bubbled around and passed her. Her face rested above the surface, peaceful and calm. Sarah stared blankly at the stars above. Peter leaned over her and slipped his arms around her. His lips covered her soft, smooth cheeks with tender kisses. He took one hand from behind her back and gently stroked her hair as it waved lazily in the stream. Tenderly, he kissed her lips as softly as a new lover on his wedding night. He gazed into Sarah's lifeless eyes, then closed her eyelids, sealing each with a gentle kiss. Again, he slipped both of his arms around her and embraced her, pulling their two bodies together. After a few moments, he released her. She lingered at first, not wanting to leave her lover. But, finally, the stream urged her along and she relented. She began to move, but stopped suddenly as she planted her feet into the stream's bed.

Peter's eyes widened at the sight of his Sarah's hesitation. His heart raced as the gravity of his mistake comes to his full attention. Sarah was not dead after all! She had stopped to be with him! He smiled - a small, shaky laugh escaped his lips. He stood, meaning to help her out of the water. As he bent over her, she moved away from him. Her feet still seemed planted, but her body drifted away from his reaching arm. The stream continued to push her, helping her along as it turned her body away from his. Her head pointed downstream. Peter's arms dropped to his side and she slumped to the ground beside the stream. Sarah drifted away from him, forever.

If you'd like to read the poem, you can find it:

Monday, October 4, 2010

Once around the block...

I hate writer's block.  It is a subconscious (and sometimes VERY conscious) voice that tells us we can't write, don't know what to write, don't want to write, and a myriad of other tall tales that keep us from doing what we actually desire to do the most - WRITE!  Write something. Write anything.  But no, that blank page just stares at me.

I've thought many times about how to start my next novel, but no matter where I want to go, taking the first few steps feels like swimming through quick-drying cement - or what I would imagine that to be like.  I've read dozen of articles and several books that deal with the block in one way or another.  Of course, the most common advice is "keep writing anyway." Yeah, nice theory.

Well, okay, yeah, it actually works if you are at least willing to give it try.  I can tell that my experience is that it works by forcing me to *not* work.  I make notes - places, people, plot lines, etc.  I have no idea how they tie together, and I know that they don't even have to tie together.  Heck, they don't even have to make the final cut.  But at least it is something.  All too often, though, I get nowhere fast.

So, sometimes I try just to make a list of questions I'd like to answer:  How will so-and-so die?  Why does so-and-so move away? Should the main character move away?  What would happen?  Why would s/he move?  How do they feel?  Do they ever see their friends again?  How does that impact what is written (or not written)?  What color is so-and-so's shirt? 

Writer's block sucks.  But, if you admit you have the problem, you've taken the first step in getting around it.  Then, put one foot in front of the other.  You will laugh, cry, pull your hair out, and (hopefully) eventually come through the other side with the kick-start you needed.