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Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2016, Here I Come!

A new year is upon us. Normally a time for evaluation and making new goals in many areas of our life. Not the least for a writer is establishing writing goals.

But I have to be honest. As the lack of activity on this blog and my output the last couple of years have shown, the grand writing goals of 2014 and 2015 never materialized. Never really got off the ground. At the end of 2013, I had finished a year in which I had consistently put out a story a month here, as well as other hopefully interesting content. In addition, I had been added to the blogging staff at Speculative Faith.

In addition to those blogs, I had started a blog for my infidelity site and book that had come out that year:, at which I had been posting multiple articles a month on different subjects related to that topic, and had plans to write a follow-up book, “Healing Infidelity Through Faith.” I think I had written a couple of chapters on that book, but intended to also re-purpose some my blog articles for it as well.

I had also started a blog to track my journey with Parkinson's Disease in 2013— I made no commitments to keep a schedule with it, as it primarily was a means for family and friends to find out how I was doing and to have some record of how the disease has progressed and what things I've done to deal with it.

So at the beginning of 2014, I had committed to keeping up four blogs, two of them with at least once a month postings and one with weekly postings. Of those four blogs, however, I only kept up with two of them: the Speculative Faith once a week blog post and the occasional post on my PD blog. The other two, including this blog, fell by the wayside.

On top of that, I had several writing projects I had hoped to accomplish in 2014.

The first story in a new fantasy series had been accepted by a publisher, and they had requested some significant editing/rewriting. I knew that would take some time to do, but as it ended up, I totally bombed on getting that done. As of now, I still haven't touched it. I'm sure by now the publisher has given up on me and is no longer interested in publishing that book. So if I get around to straightening that story up, I'll probably have to self-publish it.

I had started a episode-story I planned to make a book out of about a woman who gets involved with a rebellion group against a corrupt government in a planetary system. I did get one more story/chapter written during 2014, but that was it. I've not returned to it since then.

I was also in the middle of writing the fourth book in my Virtual Chronicles series: Reality Game. I had written about seven chapters during 2013 National Novel Writing Month in November before real-life forced me to give up on finishing NaNO that month. So I had hopes of finishing that book by summer of 2014 and have it published by that fall. As it happened, I did nothing on it that year, and only succeeding in writing one or two more chapter this year. So still a long ways to go. Motivation-wise, it probably didn't help that book three in that series has had zero sales other than one person at my church, and so far I don't think he ever got around to actually reading it, even though he's been a big fan of the series. I'm only aware of one person who has read the book: the person who helped me edit it. So it is hard to get rid of the feeling that I'm wasting my time writing it. But I'd hate to never end the series correctly. Who knows? Someday it could become popular and people will be unhappy that book four never saw the light of day. So I still want to finish it.

I also had two publishing projects. A collection of my poetry and another anthology featuring the short stories I'd written during 2013. The only progress I've made since then is to run the poetry through my local critique group I'm a part of. The poetry book should be a quick project. All I've got to do is edit the poems and format the book and ebook. Then it would be ready to be published once I figured out a good title and cover for it. I probably still need to work on the short stories to get them ready.

So as you can see, I had big plans for 2014, which aside from some successes, failed to materialize, especially on the novel and publishing fronts. At the end of 2014, feeling that outside pressures of life were going to make it even harder, I resigned from my blogging position at Speculative Faith. I had hoped it would allow me to write here more and get some writing done, but as is obvious by now, that didn't happen either. The only blog I've kept halfway up with this year is my PD blog. My only accomplishments this year were writing another chapter in my Reality Game book, helping my writers' club to publish an anthology of our club's stories and poems, and writing a couple of short stories and a couple of poems. Meanwhile, all those projects still sit waiting for me to do them.

So first I should evaluate why after a good year in 2013 on the writing front, I've bombed since then. Not to make excuses, but to evaluate what happened that caused those results so I can determine for 2016 whether or not they were still a factor, and if so, how could I change things to accomplish my goals.

One potential reason was fallout from the infidelity issues of 2011. When I discovered that, my writing came to a screeching halt on May 11, 2013. Naturally my focus turned nearly 100% to dealing with that trauma. But I had hoped that after a few months, I'd get back to it. That didn't happen in any big way until the end of 2012. When I had a pretty good year in 2013, I felt the dry spell from those events were over. But perhaps they returned.

I think in retrospect there were two reasons it caused such a long dry spell in the first place, aside from the immediate trauma of the whole thing, which grew manageable after 3-6 months. One was the adjustments I made to my schedule to spend more time with my wife. The natural results of that meant I had less time for writing than before. Still, that should explain why I slowed down, not why I stopped writing

The other reason I've struggled from that is the fear I won't find a balance, but slip back into the same mode as before. I had treated my writing like a second job, putting in eight to nine hours a day in addition to my full-time job. That in essence meant I spent precious little time with my wife. I was engrossed in my own writing world, and I avoided even holiday activities like handing out candy on Halloween or decorating the Christmas tree, etc. If I could get out of doing anything to have more time to write, I did. I was driven to write, so much that I saw other activities as leeches on my writing time, and would only do what I had to do, often begrudgingly.

While that dynamic didn't cause my wife to cheat, it certainly made it more tempting than it otherwise would have been. Plus, I feel due to that, I didn't pay as much attention to warning signs as I should have, and therefore I was totally blindsided when I discovered the truth. The result of that was a lack of motivation to return to writing, fearing it had a part to play in the resulting events, and certainly wasn't conducive to a good marriage or family life either. But could I get back into writing without sinking into it again?

The first reason needs to stay. I'm unwilling to short-change my wife and kids' time with me for the good of my writing goals. But can I find a balance and still maintain a drive and motivation to write? That seems to be the tricky part. So one issue is when I had a great 2013, and set some lofty goals for 2014, my inner motivation/drive to write shut down because it appeared I was taking on too much that would require cutting into time with my wife and kids. So I backed off in fear that I couldn't find the correct balance, that I was doing it again.

That lack of motivation and drive to write seems to be at the heart of this last two-year dry spell. There have been several times this past year when I've thought, “I could get some writing done on . . .” insert the project. But I wouldn't feel like doing it, opting for a more passive activity.

I believe the route to fixing that is the following. One, set realistic goals given the amount of time I can validly give to my writing life. Two, make soft deadlines, not hard ones. If I don't meet a goal's deadline, no big deal. I've not “failed.” Just reset expectations. Two, set a time aside, preferably daily, when I do writing tasks, then keep it within that time. When time is up, I stop writing and move onto other things. That way I don't have to worry that I'll allow writing tasks to suck away time from other priorities. Three, prioritize my writing tasks. If a blog post would prevent me from making enough headway with a novel, then time with the novel wins out. If I can accomplish all my goals, great, but I need to know which ones to sacrifice first in order to accomplish the most important ones.

I think the above is key to regaining the motivation to write. When my brain no longer perceives it as a threat to my marital success, then I won't be afraid of wanting to write. That is done by giving my writing life not just goals, but boundaries.

But other practical issues have played into the dry spells. Primarily, the progression of my Parkinson's Disease. It has played a part on two or three fronts. One, it is well known that PD can affect one's motivation to do things, both due to depression (which I don't think I've had much of to this point) but also because the neurotransmitter that is being reduced, dopamine, is not only responsible for smooth movements, but also motivation for various activities. That has obviously added to the lack of motivation on the writing front. The only way to deal with that is to know it is there, and know once I start writing, I enjoy it. So do it anyway. If PD is helping to drive the lack of motivation to write, there's not much I can directly do about that other than what I'm already doing.

But it has also taken away even more time from me. In that my typing speed has been cut in half. So the amount of writing I used to be able to do in three hours now takes six hours, thanks to PD. It may even be more than half by this point. For example, I've been working on this post for three hours. I've done 1931 words at this point, which is 643 words an hour. I'm actually having a good day today, but pre-PD, I could do more than a 1000 words an hour.

One potential solution to this is to transition toward using Dragon Speak more. I have it set up on my Windows 10 Surface tablet, and it seems to work pretty well now. I need to see if I can become proficient in using it, as it could eventually get my word count back up. I need to start using it more so I can become comfortable with it.

You'd think a guy out of work would have more time for this, but there have been several reasons that's not as true. One, since March of this year, in an effort to slow down the PD train, I exercise around 9 hours a week. Add to that 6 hours of driving time a week to get to the classes. I spend around 5 hours a week doing the bookkeeping for my wife's business. I help out on her jobs around 2-3 hours a week on average. It used to be more, but as my PD has progressed, I'm not able to help out as much. Back in 2014, I was doing a lot of jobs with her. This year that has gradually dropped as I've gotten worse.

Plus, that's another issue with PD: fatigue. There are times I crash and need to take a nap. My energy level is not what it used to be when I could get four hours of sleep a night and do fine the next day at work and writing when I came home. Add onto that several pressing issues on my to-do list that have been hanging over me most of this year, and it is easy to see why I've had little time for writing.

At one point, I counted the hours I had put into writing when I had a full-time job and what I was able to do now. Back then it was 8-9 hours. Now, I'd do good to find 3-6 hours a day. That's about enough time to write a blog post like this one.

The good news is that toward the end of this year, I've made some good progress on dealing with several financial issues that have been hanging over my head this year. They all required a lot of paperwork, but I've recently slogged through them all and much of it has been resolved or is well into the process of being resolved. That means I no longer have to focus on them and they shouldn't be sucking attention away from writing so much. And if one of them pans out, could significantly improve our financial situation.

So I feel I'm in a good spot now to take another stab at setting some writing goals for 2016, and see if I can find that balance while regaining my drive to do it. So here is my plan.

Primary soft writing goals for 2016:

  • Finish Reality Game, and get it published in time for Christmas. Hopefully end the series with it so I can move onto some other projects waiting to be done.

  • Work on getting a non-fiction book written: Healing Infidelity Through Faith. Maybe get it published this year, but I'm not going to list it as a goal.

  • Work on finishing my small devotional book on the Parables of Christ. Not only for a writing goal, but to motivate me to spend more time in the Word.

Secondary soft writing goals for 2016:

  • Publish my poetry collection.

  • Write one short story a month to be posted here on this blog.

  • Write one article a month for my infidelity blog.

  • Continue to write post on my PD blog as I'm able and have the time.

Mid-year, I'll evaluate where I'm at, and either keep it the same, add on goals, or reduce expectations accordingly. Also I'll try to block off time in the afternoons to get writing tasks done, when I'm able to do so. Additionally, I'll work on using Dragon Speak more to improve my writing word count, so I can use the little time I have more productively.

So that's where I'm at. Thanks for following me this far. I hope to have some improvement in 2016 in regards to writing and publishing. Making no promises, but time will tell whether my plan works or not.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Fountain of Christmas Cheer

My annual Christmas story/gift to my readers is a bit unusual this year, for me, in that it is more mainstream fiction than my normal speculative fair. But that's just what wanted to be written, even though I had intended to add in some fantasy elements. It is what it is, but I think you'll enjoy it just as much. Merry Christmas!


[caption id="attachment_1151" align="alignright" width="256" caption="Christmas tree. Pereslavl museum, Christmas 2012"]Christmas tree. Pereslavl museum, Christmas 2012[/caption]

The bitter, cold wind blasting my cheeks matched the mood of my heart. I pulled up the collar of my coat as I crossed the busy downtown street. The traffic noise and honking horns bouncing off the surrounding skyscrapers added to the somber notes inside my head.

Mixed among all that cacophony rang the mixed music of Christmas playing from stores, cars, and people next to me. The cheerful notes only heightened my misery. Everyone seemed happy, joyful, and desperate to foist that happiness onto me, as if I could be happy by flipping a switch.

As I stepped onto the curb, someone tugged at my pants. I jerked my head down to spot a boy, about 8 or 10 years old. Big eyes pleaded with me while a dirty face and worn clothing advertised his need.

He raised up his dirty hand. “Please, sir. Can you give me some money so I can eat?”

I sighed. “Do you have a home, boy?”

He shook his head.

“You have a family?”

He shook his head again. “No, sir. They died last year. My sister and I don't have a home.”

This sounded fishy. Certainly Social Services would have put two homeless kids into a foster family or something. But the pathetic boy standing beside me said I had to do something on the chance his story was true.

I glanced around; my eyes landed on a sub shop down the street. “I won't give you money, but I'll buy you and your sister a meal at that restaurant.” I pointed at the sub shop.

A smile spread across his face. “That would be fantastic. Thank you, sir!”

I led him through the crowded sidewalk and into the shop. Being hungry myself, I ordered three subs. I started to pull a chair out at a table.

The boy placed his hand on the back of the chair. “Can I sit here?”

I nodded. “Sure, but why?”

“I want to see the door.”

I released the chair. Did he watch for someone to come in? An accomplice, perhaps? Maybe his sister? I had better keep my guard up. I had no idea what his motives were.

We sat down at a table and the boy dug into his sub, almost eating the wrapper in the process. Obviously he hadn't eaten for a while, which made me feel better about feeding him. Still, I wanted to find out his real story. He appeared too happy for a kid living on the street because of dead parents. It didn't make sense.

I swallowed a bite. “What's your name, son?”

He chewed for a few seconds before swallowing. “Josh.” He launched into another bite.

“My name's Daniel.” I waited until he finished he current mouthful. “How did your parents die?”

He paused and stared blankly past me. “A man came into our house and killed them. After he took a lot of stuff, he said if we called the police or told anyone, he'd be back to kill us too.” His smile returned and he bit into the sub.

Ah, he's explaining why they're not in the social system. “But you're telling me now? I'm anyone.”

“I doubt he'd find out I'd told a stranger. You won't do anything about it.”

“So what did you do?”

“We ran away. If he doesn't know where we are, he can't hurt us.”

Either he told the truth or some adult had given them a good story to tell to rake in the dough, like in Oliver Twist. I suspected the later since he spoke of their deaths so unemotionally. Time to press for more information.

“So,” I said, “if all this bad stuff has happened to you, why are you so happy?”

Josh lifted the half-eaten sub above the table.

“I know you're happy to eat, but I'm talking deeper than that.”

He stopped eating. “Why are you so sad when you have a place to live and food to eat?”

So he wanted to play the “whose got it worse” game. He didn't know I had lost my job. He didn't know my wife had divorced me this year and taken away my children. He didn't know I had filed for bankruptcy after losing my house. Nor did he know about my doctor's diagnosis of colon cancer that threatened to take my life. That said, I did have an apartment to live in and food to eat thanks to the generosity of friends, family, and a part-time job I had taken in desperation.

“Let's just say, Josh, that some pretty bad things have happened to me over the past year. Different from yours, but still just as bad.” More like my world had fallen apart. I had become a failure at most everything. Who knew, I might end up joining Josh on the streets by the time it was all said and done.

Josh's chewed slowly before the food dropped into his stomach. “I still have my sister and it is Christmas. And right now, I have you.”

“Have me? Like I'm your mark?”


“Someone you are tricking to get money from by telling a bunch of lies to garner their sympathy.”

Josh's eyes widened. “No! I mean I'm with you now. You care about me even though you don't know me. That makes me happy.”

I sat back in the chair as Josh continued eating. His perspective came into focus. Events didn't make him happy or sad. People did. Their genuine, selfless love did.

Josh glanced over my shoulder and froze as I heard the door chime ring behind me. He cowered into his chair and pulled his ratty, thin coat over his head. “He's here.”

“Who's here?” I peaked over my shoulder. A bearded man, around six-feet tall, stepped into the shop. His long, unkempt hair and long, black trench coat did give him a menacing appearance. The man made his way to the ordering counter.

Josh's voice quivered. “The man who killed mom and dad.”

I rubbed my forehead. Josh displayed true fear. He was telling the truth. This injustice needed to be rectified. Men like this one shouldn't be on the street. I took a deep breathe. Maybe I could get enough information on the man to tell the authorities. It might go south, but if I played my cards right, the man wouldn't suspect my motives.

By this point, the man stood at the register paying for his meal. I would ask the clerk for something and see if I couldn't start a conversation with the guy. I patted Josh's covered head. “I'll be right back. Stay here. I won't let him hurt you.” Though I had no idea how I would stop the bulky man if it came to it.

I scooted my chair back and approached him from the back. As my eyesight breached the man's shoulder, I saw him holding a gun discreetly toward the cashier as money was being stuffed into a bag. My plan wasn't a good idea. But here I was, standing right behind the man in the middle of committing a felony. If he didn't kill me, the cancer probably would. What did I have to lose at this point?

I laced my fingers together to form a hard ball, then swung it with all my might at the back of his head. The man lurched forward and his knees almost gave out. One of his hands grabbed the back of his head while he turned my way with his gun. Having the advantage of surprise, I knew it was now or never. I reared my right fist back, and stepped into an uppercut to the man's jaw. Reeling back, he hit the wall, shaking his head.

Before he could gain his bearings, I pulled the gun from his hand, then landed another blow to the side of his head with the firearm's butt. The burly man fell unconscious to the floor.

The stunned patron's clapping started slowly, then grew into a chorus as they realized what had transpired. The relieved cashier grabbed the phone. I helped him tie the man up in case he came to before the police arrived.

I returned to the table to discover Josh smiling like he'd just opened the best Christmas presence he'd ever received. In a manner of speaking, he had.

And so had I. “Josh, why don't we get your sister and for now, you two can stay at my apartment.”

He grinned. “That would be awesome!”

A bubbly lightness and contentment flooded over me. “Yes, it is awesome.” I thanked God for giving birth to new hope, once again. Like He did over 2000 years ago at His nativity. For the first time in a long while, I desired to celebrate Christmas—because of who was with me.


Celebrating the Fullness of Christmas cover.While you're thinking about it, check out and get a copy of my devotional for the twelve days of Christmas: Celebrating the Fullness of Christmas An enriching and enjoyable way to make Christmas more real and fulfilling. Click on the cover photo to buy.