October 25, 2012

what's longer than three inches?

Last week, my beloved California Golden Bears suffered a terrible embarrassment. They averaged only three inches a carry in their football game against our hated rivals across the Bay. Three inches. That's less than half the size of a Kindle Fire's screen. It took them two plays to go almost the length of the Kindle Fire screen.

Speaking of the Kindle, you can get one of my short stories for free today and tomorrow (October 25 and 26). People have called Distractions "funny," "charming," and "pretty twisted."

Today and tomorrow, they're also calling it "free." Go get it. Read it. Let me know if you like it.

October 17, 2012

Why I'm voting absentee, and busting elitist prejudice

(Playing along for the first time ever with Road Trip Wednesday at YA Highway)

I voted absentee four years ago because I expected to be traveling for work. This year, it's a different reason:

(cue gasp)

What, you are screaming to yourself right now, is a talented and experienced author like Peter doing slumming around with the amateur word-count hacks in NaNoland?

My friends, drop your academic literary elitist prejudice for a moment and join me on a journey. It's a journey of a young man who strayed from his passion, who followed the siren songs of family, prosperity, and homeownership. It's a story of despair and triumph. But most of all, it's my story.

Turn the Wayback Machine to 1987. Picture a college apartment with an Apple ][+ in the corner surrounded by spent packets of Top Ramen and empty Coke cans. Next to the 21-pin dot matrix printer sits the first 80 or so pages, on continuous-feed computer paper, of a 20-year-old young man's first novel manuscript. On top of that sits the young man's first rejection note, a form rejection from the fiction editor at Redbook magazine with "good work, please send more in the future" scribbled in black pen.

Set the dial two years ahead. The young man is flush from his first publication success, a dual contest win for short fiction and poetry in his Engineering school's annual literary publication. His mother, visiting for graduation, makes him pose with the check he won.

The young man graduated and took his engineering degree to Seattle for his first job. His sweetheart still had one year of college, so he spent his evenings at his electric typewriter, alone in a dim economy apartment kitchen, working on short stories and a new novel. (That first one he unceremoniously stowed away in a box somewhere.)

A year later, that new manuscript was left off after chapter four, and that sweetheart had become his wife. He moved back to Berkeley for a different job, a better job, with high hopes for his career. At 26 he and his bride bought a home. His career managing a technical publications department at a software company was exciting and dynamic. And he hadn't written any fiction in months.

Five years later, the demands of two children and a larger home and a bigger job kept him far from the joy of writing. He was important now, an up-and-comer, a father, a husband, a homeowner. What little extra time he had, he spent keeping children safe as a school crossing guard.

When he turned 35, he knew he had strayed from his dream. He had no regrets, but he wasn't sure how to get back on that path that he had loved so much. He dabbled with poetry again, bought a blank journal and filled it with a lame-ass story he would never show to anyone today in a million years. He started another novel, got to chapter three, and decided it was crap and not worth finishing.

By now, you've figured out that I, I was that young man. A sad story. The story of millions of people; the story of a single soul. It could have ended there.

But a magical thing happened. November came. November 2004, specifically.

I discovered a thing called National Novel Writing Month. A few thousand people were involved. I could do that, I thought. And I did. It was hard. I started with only a vague idea of character and setting, and the plot unfolded as I wrote. By December I had 50,000 words. By February I had a completed manuscript at 69,000 words. I had done it. It wasn't great, but it wasn't awful.

Most of all, I knew I could do it again. Better.

And I did. The next three years I completed novels in November, each one progressively more accomplished, more polished, more complete than the ones before. I learned to avoid plot holes, to study and refine character motivation, to wipe out -ly words. Like Batman, I had my daytime persona--husband, father, laborer, homeowner--but my secret identity as a writer began taking over my psyche bit by bit.

All told, I completed four NaNoWriMo manuscripts. I haven't published any of those, but I did go on to publish my fifth novel, Semper, which was not a NaNo book. Today, I'm on the verge of publishing its sequel.

Might that have happened without the magic of NaNo? There's no way to know for sure.

But this year I'll be jumping back into that frenzied rush of adrenaline and caffeine to start a new project. Because I've been to the mountaintop, I know what it takes to succeed. And I'll be prepared. Oh, I'll be prepared. Words will tumble out like Halloween candy from a bowl with a note on it saying "please take only one," and analogies will thicken the prose in the way that peanut butter sticks to the roof of a dog's mouth. And cliches will wallow like pigs and soar like eagles while metaphors mix like dead horses being beaten. And in the end, when all is said and done, when all is done and said... things will have been written.

This didn't have to be my story. It could be the story of any number of people. Six, for example. Or ninety-one. That doesn't really matter. What matters is that NaNoWriMo picked me up, dusted me off, and told me, "You can do this, mister. Never forget who you are and where you came from. Now get up, get back on that horse, and write."

And that's what I intend to do. Just as soon as I finish this game of Words With Friends and respond to this guy's political rant on Facebook.

October 12, 2012

The uniform comes off: @BoyScouts and @bsamdsc, you got this WRONG.

Sometimes an event happens that clarifies a difficult, murky situation. Such an event happened today. I got an email. That in itself is not unusual. This email came from our local Boy Scouts council leadership. That is a little unusual, but not terribly. But when I received this particular email, I swear I could actually hear that other shoe hitting the floor.

My last blog post was about BSA's national anti-gay policy. That post focused on the meaning of leadership. How can BSA profess to teach young men to become effective leaders when they're saying that roughly one in every ten boys (or one in every twenty-five, depending on which experts you believe) need to be excluded?

I think BSA's policy is morally wrong, ethically wrong, and also wrong-headed. It's ass backwards from a leadership perspective, from an American perspective, and from a management perspective. Why are gays excluded? Gay does not equal pedophile. Gay equals gay. Pedophile equals pedophile. BSA's history is littered with documented cases of covered-up child molestation. The anti-gay policy didn't do any good then in protecting the boys. Only in the past few years has BSA put in place strong policies to protect boys from predators, including background checks, biannual youth protection training, no solitary one-on-one contact, etc. Had those policies been in place, policies that protect against pedophiles, then maybe that abuse could have been prevented.

But that's not my point. My point is the email I got today. You may have read about that boy in a town nearby who is a shining example of all things Boy Scouts. Oh, wait, sorry. There's this one thing. He's openly gay. And for that, he was denied his Eagle rank, for which he accomplished all the requirements. The Scoutmaster of his troop refused to sign off on the boy's excellent Eagle project. And now, in this email I've received, the Council stands behind the Scoutmaster's decision.

I've heard this argument made before. We were just following orders. People might disagree about the policy, but there's nothing we can do. Our hands our tied. It was a "good faith" effort. (Which is an odd use of the phrase here since faith (in the religious sense) is typically correlated with gay discrimination (see: reasons Prop 8 passed).)

Anyway, this email hit my inbox hard. I'd imagined the policy to be a result of BSA being headquartered in Texas. Everyone in California knows that Texas is a wacko tea party Bible Belt kind of place, right? That could never actually happen in the Bay Area. (Ooh! Ironic prejudice alert!)

Well, it did. It happened here. In my own council. And they aren't standing up for the scout. They're backing the adult leader. Which is what has happened for decades. Too bad for the 17 year old boy who did everything right and trusted the adults around him. Too bad they are kicking him to the curb. But the adults, they made a good faith effort, you know?

No more for me. I cannot wear the uniform any longer. I cannot hold an official position in the BSA organization, no matter how puny and insignificant my role as Assistant Scoutmaster of a troop of 35 boys is. When a boy as courageous and upstanding and model as that boy is (according to what I've read... I do not know the family personally) is crushed just for being who he is, it's wrong. As an organization, we should be celebrating his leadership and accomplishments. As a society, we should be congratulating him for overcoming the bullying he's experienced.

In Michigan, an unpopular girl is made fun of by her peers, and she gets a huge rally of support from her community. This boy accomplishes all he has done, and the adults around him tsk-tsk and suppress him further, rallying around the poor Scoutmaster who was put "in a difficult position."

It's all so backwards and wrong. It makes me really sad. Shame on you, BSA. Shame on you, Mount Diablo Silverado Council. I know you will grow up and change one day. But today? Today's a bad day.